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The Parting Gift

Review

The Parting Gift

With Humbert Humbert, the terrible and eloquent storyteller of LOLITA, Vladimir Nabokov gave readers the classic unreliable narrator. His thoughts and actions were perverse, and his lack of accountability was mystifying. Yet LOLITA remains a compelling and genius work of literature due, in no small part, to the challenge Humbert Humbert creates as the truth is obscured.

In THE PARTING GIFT by Evan Fallenberg, readers meet another unreliable narrator --- similarly clever, selfish, sexual and obsessed. This man, unnamed throughout Fallenberg’s short and pointed novel, has penned a long letter to his college friend Adam, whose house he has been staying in for months. As the man prepares to leave, he writes ostensibly to express his gratitude and explain why he abruptly left Israel and returned to the States with no place to go.

"Fallenberg does a marvelous job crafting a perspective both strong and suspect.... Full of the scents, sounds and vistas of Israel, this is a fascinating, commanding and fantastic read."

Having left his graduate program “under highly unpleasant circumstances” just before graduation, the letter writer decides to travel to Israel. As the son of an Israeli mother, he feels confident in Hebrew, and though he doesn’t want to see his Israeli family, he is drawn by the citizenship he can immediately acquire. His first few months in Tel Aviv are full of ulpan language lessons, festivals and parties. On a trip north with some friends, he stops at a famous spice merchant known as the Spice Guy. In a building with a beautiful view of the sea are rows upon rows of herbs and spices in pungent and delectable array. When the narrator sees the Spice Man himself, he abandons his friends and his journey north, places his hands on the spice merchant and decides not to leave.

So begins his passionate and surprising relationship with Uzi. Our raconteur comes to know Uzi’s ex-wives and five children, especially Nina, who lives next door, and their eldest daughter Rinat, who is suffering from an eating disorder. Though Uzi remains mostly quiet and non-emotional, his new lover becomes the confidante of Nina and Rinat. He also has his sights set on some business goals for the Spice Man: improved signage, international shipping and a cookbook. This idyll comes under threat when Uzi hires a young man named Ibrahim. Jealous at perceived infidelity, the narrator stalks both Uzi and Ibrahim to catch them together. At the same time, he sets out to harm Uzi by attacking what he loves. From the safety of Adam’s house, he concludes his tale, never providing a resolution to the story.

Fallenberg does a marvelous job crafting a perspective both strong and suspect. Seemingly innocent remarks, ideas or acts become ominous in hindsight as a pattern of instability (and perhaps worse) is revealed. THE PARTING GIFT is sexy and tense, full of danger and uncertainty. In some ways, it is the story of lust turning to love and then turning cold. But it is also a chilly psychological thriller. The arrogant and slick letter writer constantly teases and mocks Adam, and while he says he wants to be honest, it seems he has ulterior motives. He is manipulative, and the letter itself is vaguely threatening. Fallenberg has important points to make, and he does so with a style that is both concise and lyrical.

THE PARTING GIFT examines relationships of all kinds, as well as themes of masculinity, identity and otherness, hypocrisy, and the power of sex and jealousy. Readers are free to decide what the parting gift is: the letter, the knowledge, the near-threats and offers made to Adam. Full of the scents, sounds and vistas of Israel, this is a fascinating, commanding and fantastic read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 21, 2018

The Parting Gift
by Evan Fallenberg

  • Publication Date: September 4, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590519434
  • ISBN-13: 9781590519431