There are fictional characters, once encountered, that remain perpetually parked, closeted in one’s literary landscape: Holden Caufield, Scarlet O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Sherlock Holmes, Hester Prynne, Hannibal Lecter, Daniel Deronda, Moby Dick/Captain Ahab, Miss Havisham, Sydney Carton, Becky Sharp, Lisbeth Salander, Fishman; in Robert Koppel’s newest, exhilarating, fantastical “Odyssey” we meet “Ira Fleckenstein” and his hilarious, outrageous relatives and friends; following the saga of “The Next Step: a Gobsmacking Odyssey of Reinvention”, Koppel excavates the corridors of his stunning imagination, once again embarking on a triumphant tale, of remarkable mythic proportions.
Language comes alive in Koppel’s narrative, more colorful than Proust; succinctly, he cloaks his protagonists in memorable, radiant verbiage; a sentence conjures up their physicality, personality quirks, daring readers to turn away from these talented, flawed, unorthodox individuals; Ira’s search for the meaning of “Alfie’s” life and love is infused with references to the compositions of Bert Bacharach, Gustav Mahler; songs by the Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Dione Warwick; philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Ruskin; visits to Rome at the request of the Pope and Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Why Love?” Koppel’s quest focuses on his lust/love of history, art, music, science, opera, poetry, religion, myriad more; his depiction of “Fleckenstein’s” multi-faceted Jewish lineage; smattering of jocularity; archival, ancestral recipes; constantly tweaking the sublime, elevating the benign; “The Kindness Foundation”, idealistically Koppel’s creations are invariably salvaging the universe. His genius lies in recognizing that “love” is amorphous, indefinable; intangible, unforeseen, undefined; unquestionably, robbed of choice in the process: “why love?” “Just because. Just because.”
In a flawless fictional foundry a fusing of Fishman/Fleckstein with “Ignatius J. Reilly” (“The Confederacy of Dunces”, John Kennedy Toole); Robert Koppel as the “welder”, would catastrophically knock the genre on its knees.