Jacob is reborn in the twenty-first century, two hundred-some years after his death. He can fly about. No one can see him. He thinks he must be an angel — until a look in the mirror dashes that hope: it’s no heavenly being that stares back at him but a common house fly. Jacob is the proverbial all-seeing, all-hearing fly on the wall, divinely enhanced. Not only can he observe the two humans to whom he first bonds, but he also has omniscient access to their thoughts and memories, and even the ability to influence their will.
Absurd premise? Yes, but the absurdity is delightful, and Rebecca Miller pulls it off with aplomb.
Leslie Senzatimore, the first human Jacob encounters, is a volunteer fireman and all-around do-gooder faced with many burdens: troublesome in-laws, a deaf child, and the haunting memory of his father’s suicide. Jacob quickly loses interest in Leslie, deeming him too incorruptible to be much fun. He turns his focus, instead, to Masha, a young ultra-Orthodox Jew, whose exposure to the wonders of television during a hospital stay ignites in her a fierce desire to become an actress. With her bewitching beauty and dreamy air, she may have what it takes to succeed. Goaded on by Jacob, Masha pursues illicit co-ed acting lessons and excels. At the same time, however, she is dating to find a husband. All too soon, it becomes obvious that she will have to make the monumental choice between her ambition and her family’s traditions.
The tale of Jacob’s life as a Jew in eighteenth-century Paris unfolds alongside Leslie and Masha’s converging fates. Part of a small, barely tolerated community, Jacob provides for himself by peddling knives and snuff boxes. His mundane work gives way to lively adventure, detailed drolly. Jacob’s difficult marriage, a beguiling weapon of unknown origin, and the attention of a mysterious French count supply the intrigue that brings Jacob ever closer to his death.
Jacob’s voice is irresistible throughout. Miller demonstrates a deft hand for creating unforgettable characters and charged scenes. Her inventiveness never fails to enchant. Hilarious and compulsively readable, Jacob’s Folly is huge fun.