Book Review: In Print: Texas Book Festival Authors

A twice-married virgin wanders sexually liberated Vienna and collides with – who else? – Freud

In Print: Texas Book Festival Authors

A Curable Romantic: A Novel

by Joseph Skibell
Algonquin Books, 608 pp., $25.95

Before Franz Ferdinand met his untimely end – the first domino toppled in the worst period of persecution for the Jews of Europe in history – A Curable Romantic's Jakob Sammelsohn wandered sexually liberated Vienna more concerned that he had been married twice yet was still a virgin. Who better to swoop in like a superhero than ur-therapist Sigmund Freud? And so the duke of daddy issues unwittingly kick-starts Jakob's sex life and adds fuel to his friend's travels toward and beyond the turn of the century, leading to collisions with other historical figures, including Emma Eckstein, one of Freud's great failures; Esperanto inventor Ludovik Zamenhof; and Warsaw ghetto chronicler Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Szapira.

Jakob's unlucky streak in love starts to look more like a downward spiral not soon after the book's first act. Turns out these vicious cycles might originate with three bit players in the Torah traveling from life to life throughout time, cursed to curse one another. Or they might just be an elaborate hallucination brought on by Jakob's hysteria. Either way, Romantic's movement from the lower-middle class to the German mandated Polish slums is rife with supernatural sabotage and all-around shit luck.

Skibell doesn't paint a dour picture for all 600 pages. There are moments of joy, love, and, yes, long-delayed sex even as A Curable Romantic shifts gears from mystery to history to something approximating Dante's Paradiso with few snags in the author's skilled yarn-spinning. Skibell bends the English language to his will as he examines the power of language to alienate and unite. Jakob, however, can't shake his past. He admits, "It's a peculiarity of us Jews that we tend to drag our history along behind us." And with a possible heavenly edict to be reborn over and over, Jakob's past is weighty indeed. That weight can be felt in the novel's prose, as Skibell's protagonist adds years to his life and the heavens beckon, if somewhat prematurely. One can only hope that Jakob's next life will be more fruitful, but if history, heaven, or both have their way, it looks doubtful.


In addition to his Texas Book Festival appearance, Joseph Skibell reads at BookPeople on Nov. 4.

READ MORE
More Texas Book Festival authors
Texas Book Festival Authors
The Widower's Tale: A Novel
A funny and subtle portrait of a family negotiating continuing crises from National Book Award-winner Julia Glass

Kimberley Jones, Oct. 8, 2010

Texas Book Festival Authors
Blood-Dark Track: A Family History
Reissue of Netherland author Joseph O'Neill's inquiry into his grandfathers' pasts

Jay Trachtenberg, Oct. 8, 2010

More Book Reviews
Local Flavor
Paleo French Cuisine
The 10,000-year-old diet gets a French makeover

Anna Toon, June 14, 2013

Summer Fiction, Summer Not
You
Follow along with a group of kids maturing along with the tech and gaming industry of the Eighties and Nineties

James Renovitch, May 17, 2013

More by James Renovitch
Hot Sauce Festival Winners 2017
Hot Sauce Festival Winners 2017
The critics and people have spoken

Aug. 21, 2017

Live Music This Weekend, Aug. 18-20
Live Music This Weekend, Aug. 18-20
Soundtracking this weekend’s sweat-fests

Aug. 18, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Book Festival authors, Freud, A Curable Romantic: A Novel, Joseph Skibell, sexual hysteria, Emma Eckstein, Ludovik Zamenhof, Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Szapira

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)