Zinsky the Obscure
by Ilan Mochari
Zinsky the Obscure is a book I agreed to read and review for TLC Book Tours.
In this debut novel, we meet Ariel Zinsky as a child. His parents have divorced, his father leaving the family for another woman, whom he marries and with whom he proceeds to create a second family. Ariel’s childhood is marked by periodic visits from his father, which are always accompanied by severe beatings. In between those dreaded visits, Ariel lives with his closest friend, his mother, who serial dates until she, too, lands in a second marriage.
Ariel grows up and becomes, in some ways, larger than life: a six-foot-eight giant with no hair – all of it literally disappears overnight. He is a deeply flawed, lonely man, scarred by the beatings of his childhood, as well as the absence of love from his father.
We watch him traverse three romantic relationships as an adult: first with a beautiful college co-ed who seems to be lowering herself to date and sleep with Ariel while she’s on the rebound – until Ariel slaps her one night and that’s the end of that; then with the HR supervisor from the accounting job he left, an intelligent, independent, beautiful woman with such an irrational fear of pregnancy that she refuses to have traditional intercourse over the entire three years of their relationship; and a beautiful older woman for whom Ariel pined from afar for years before actually becoming romantically involved with. Even these relationships manage to seem somewhat mythical: it seems that stunningly beautiful, over-six-feet-tall women are a dime a dozen. Ariel manages to spectacularly screw up every one of these relationships, perpetuating his own misery: believing himself too flawed, too ugly for real love, he sabotages every opportunity for real love, proving that he isn’t good enough for real love.
Meanwhile, over the course of several years, his obsession with football, conceived in childhood, develops into a pursuit to make it big writing an annual football draft guide, and he goes from living in near poverty and drowning in debt to being a wealthy entrepreneur.
When I agreed to read and review this book, I was cautioned that the scenes of brutality inflicted by father on son might be especially disturbing and difficult to stomach. I did not find this to be true at all. Sure, it was unpleasant reading about a father repeatedly punching his nine-year old son, but I’ve certainly read worse. Those scenes involving Ariel and his father actually fell a little flat for me – they felt one-dimensional and devoid of raw emotion. More disturbing, I thought, were the scenes of a grown man shitting in a parking lot, near constant masturbation, and graphic depictions of anal sex.
The story sometimes made me laugh, often had me scratching my head in puzzlement, but never made me cry. I had a tough time with Ariel; I saw his vulnerability and rooted for him up to a point, but in the end, I didn’t like him much, and I didn’t feel a whole lot of compassion for him. He turns out to be just as big an asshole as the father he despises. I wanted to see him transcend the abuse of his childhood, but he never does. He remains fixated on it, blaming the deprivations of his childhood for every bad turn his adult life takes, never taking genuine responsibility for his own life and his own happiness – at least not without inflicting great pain on other people. There never seems to be an epiphany or turning point for him.
Mochari is a wonderful writer. Interestingly, despite the fact that I didn’t much like the characters, the writing kept me reading – it moved along at a good clip and held my interest. However, it lacks a climax, and in the end, although I enjoyed the author’s talent, I was left wondering what the point of the story was.
Then again, the book has received rave reviews elsewhere, which makes me wonder if I just missed the boat.