Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Review of The Session

The Session by Aaron Petrovich (Akashic, 2007) is not a traditional crime story. It's not a traditional story of any sort. Billed as "a novella in dialogue," it could have just as easily been described as a play without stage directions.
The story centers around detectives Smith and Smith, who may or may not be the same person, and may or may not be inmates in an insane asylum. The Smiths are tasked with finding out who killed The Mathematician, who was murdered while giving a lecture on Essencism, a new apocalyptic cult he proposed to found.
Plot is of secondary importance, in the story, however. It is really a word game. Petrovich has clearly studied his Beckett and Stoppard. Much like Estragon and Vladimir or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Smith and Smith pass their time more consumed with banter and word games than with accomplishing anything.
At his best, Petrovich 's dialogue is like an existential Abbot & Costello routine. There is a particularly funny passage involving a play on the words "patients" and "patience," that reads like a vaudeville skit.
At his worst, Petrovich seems to be willfully pretentious, being vague merely for the sake of vagueness. Unlike Beckett's, Waiting for Godot, however, the mystery at the heart of The Session does have a solution. Petrovich is merciful in that respect.

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