Emboldened in a savagely sexual relationship for close to a year, the nameless (hence, every man) narrator of The Parting Gift walks … well, bulldozes through an animalistic affair with an older Israeli man in the small coastal town of Kritmonia, north of Tel Aviv.
The third novel by Evan Fallenberg weaves an all-too-humanistic story, albeit rarely presented openly, of unbridled lust, jealousy, and our darkest thoughts that occasionally pop up and then quickly and horrifyingly snub out.
The narrator writes a letter to his friend Adam, who sits feet away, completely unaware as if a moot point.
While on vacation, the narrator and his “foodie” friends take a day trip to a respected spice merchant named Uzi. When the narrator revisits the moment he sets eyes on Uzi, he writes:
This man standing in front of me, though, his smell was meaty, truly pungent and ripe. I was drawing it in through my nostrils and holding it there letting it shoot straight into my limbic system, that ancient part of the brain where memory and emotion and lust and smell get entangled.
And his limbic system didn’t untangle for many months, slowly changing him, confusing him, then ultimately and sinisterly avenging him.
Along with the turbulent relationship between the narrator and Uzi, Fallenberg adds several supporting characters; some also entangled in their limbic systems. One, in particular, is Rinat, Uzi’s eldest and socially awkward teenage daughter, who has an affair with an older man. Befriending Rinat early on, the narrator soon becomes annoyed by the girl, an offshoot of his annoyance with her father:
How childishly gullible she looked in that moment, with her candy-apple nails and her baby doll clothes and her round, round face and her lopsided hair (she would shear off whole clumps, indiscriminately, when in certain foul moods).
As The Parting Gift nears its final climax (but trust me there’s several), Fallenberg’s pro-antagonist reaches an interesting epiphany:
Things I’d read recently flooded my mind, the connections sizzling like live wires: how men needed to spread their seed as far and wide as possible; it was only biology after all, and here was Uzi, a man as close to nature as men get. Nature’s imperative was causing him to fuck, to fuck, to fuck again. Or this one: that autism is an extreme form of maleness and shares many of its characteristics.
Fallenberg’s The Parting Gift is a succinct tale of a grimacing truth of the male species. One rarely heard with incredible frankness; whether gay or straight, Israeli or Palestinian or American, or otherwise.
Evan Fallenberg is a National Jewish Book Award-winning translator and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Light Fell and When We Danced on Water. His new novel, The Parting Gift, will release Sept. 4, 2018, through Other Press, otherpress.com.