In Salman Rushdie’s New Novel, the Backdrop Is the Obama Years

René certainly is fond of lecturing — on Greek tragedy, Roman history and literary fiction, among other things — but the “inherited note” is nonetheless difficult to detect. Speaking about the difference between New York and the rest of the United States, René’s father declares, “Iss a bubble, like everyone says now.… Iss like in de Jim Carrey movie, only expanded to big-city size.” René’s mother hands him a folder detailing the Goldens’ past: “In the age of information, my dear … everyone’s garbage is on display for all to see.” Professorial indeed, though it raises the question of why nobody else did a little Googling.

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Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times

The narrator permits his filmmaker’s imagination to rove freely. After all, he is no mere observer, but an “imagineer,” a co-creator, as it were, of the Goldens’ story. When Nero Golden falls in lust/love with Vasilisa, a beautiful young Russian, René displays an uncharacteristic hesitancy as he ventures into their bedroom scene:

“I rear back and halt myself, ashamed, prufrocked into a sudden pudeur, for, after all, how should I presume? Shall I say, I have known them all, I have seen her like a yellow fog rubbing her back against, rubbing her muzzle upon, shall I say, licking her tongue into the corners of his evening?”

Barely has he set T. S. Eliot spinning in his grave, when he just as suddenly loses his proclaimed pudeur and dives right in. Scenes that could otherwise only be rendered by an omniscient narrator, or by alternating the characters’ perspectives, are punctuated with directions like Cut, Blackout, Wipe, so René can tell us whatever we need to know. Sometimes we are treated to a few pages of film script or monologue (which presumably will form part of the script). When two of the characters take a trip to Mumbai, René wishes he could tag along. “It might be an…

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