A bearded man in a badly soiled suit known only as The Stranger wanders an apocalyptic landscape on the fringes of a dying metropolis, looking for a way to “get back on top.” Thwarted and rejected at every turn by old friends and strangers alike—even by the author of this novel, whom he visits repeatedly in unsuccessful attempts to determine his own narrative—his impotence and rage are expressed in acts of seemingly senseless violence. The various characters he encounters on his journey—a pack of sadistic boys, skinheads who beat him senseless, a deaf-mute woman who tries to heal him, a sidewalk preacher, and a deranged man who identifies him as The One—avoid or abuse him, or attempt to follow him.
Combine this description with a review that likened this book to “a David Lynch movie transcribed by Pierre Reverdy” and I simply could not resist adding this to the pile I was collecting on this particular visit to City Lights. I am ever so delighted that I did.
What I found in Ehrenreich’s tale was beautiful, brutal prose flitting along the edges of evanescent terrain oftentimes explored by two of my favorite modern writers, Alan Lightman and Paul Auster. In fact, several aspects of Ether reminded me of Auster’s Man in the Dark while others were evocative of Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.
Ehrenreich doesn’t quite have the same linguistic polish as Lightman or Auster, but his writing style is strong, fluid, and clean. His characters are real and yet removed from reality, possessing intricacies of personality and intent housed within the simplicity of Ehrenreich’s carefully constructed prose. Even the most peripheral characters bring some element of import and intrigue to this puzzling pseudo-apocalyptic tale.
As an open-ended mystery with nothing more at times than the framework of a plot upon which we are left to build using our own personal extrapolations, Ehrenreich has given readers a curious world of darkness suffused with random moments of humanity that vacillate from grotesque to whimsical to achingly fragile.
Final Verdict: Another keeper, denizens. Oh yes, another keeper. This is only Ehrenreich’s second novel, but I am definitely interested in reading his first offering as well as in seeing where else he will be taking us in future endeavors.