Goodreads: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
Amedeo Kaplan dreams of making a discovery equal to the uncovering of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the closest he will ever get to finding something someone else lost is rummaging through his new neighbor Mrs. Zender’s estate preparatory to her move to a new home. In other words, he does not have much hope. Then one day he comes across an old piece of art that looks very much like a sketch that would have once been banned in Germany. Can he find the original owners and offer them healing or does the sketch hold too many painful memories?
The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World promises a poignant story full of loss, recovery, and healing, all with a generous helping of history. One expects such things from a novel concerned with World War II–after all, it’s hard not to cry when reading about separated families, unwarranted deaths, and unexpected acts of courage. Even with all this, however, the story somehow falls flat.
From the beginning, the characters fail to come to life, beginning with the protagonist Amedeo Kaplan. The book tells us all sorts of things about Amedeo–his parents are separated, he comes from wealth, and, most importantly, he dreams of being like those kids who accidentally dug up some dinosaur bones or found the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think we are supposed to understand Amedeo as a sort of sensitive dreamer who enjoys art and who desperately wants a friend but feels more comfortable around adults. Yet none of them ever comes across in his character–it is all merely told to us. Even his awkward dialogue, such as his description of himself “a child of divorce,” fails to give him personality, making him seem less like a child accustomed to adult conversation, than as a character who just sounds plain weird.
Alexander’s new-found friend William has even less of a personality than he does (being most notable for his apparent sense of inferiority due to his financial circumstances), leaving the adults as the most interesting players in this story. One, Mrs. Zender, has a mysterious past as an opera singer and the other, William’s mother Mrs. Wilcox, has a likewise shadowy past. Both their stories seem geared more toward adults than children, from Mrs. Zender’s repeated innuendos about the devotees who wanted to share her bed to Mrs. Wilcox’s escape from domestic violence. One begins to suspect that this book would have succeeded more as an adult novel, with the author being really able to delve into these characters and their stories, rather than glossing over the surface in order not to be too risque, too disturbing.
The plot, unfortunately, proves no more interesting than the characters. Amedeo, obviously, makes a discovery that turns out quite pat, bringing all the characters together for a little reminiscing at the end. Sadly, however, when you do not care for the characters, you do not really care for their memories, either. Questions about morality, self-preservation, and redemption arise at this point only to be promptly ignored. In the end, reading the story at all almost seemed a pointless endeavor.
E. L. Konigsburg is a gifted writer–I know that from having reading The View from Saturday. Not every work can be a masterpiece, however, and this one does not live up to expectations.