The Book of Stone

  • Review
By – May 5, 2015

In a Brook­lyn ware­house, part gun range and part syn­a­gogue, trou­ble is brewing.

Who is sus­cep­ti­ble to the mor­bid attrac­tions of ter­ror­ism? Our pop­u­lar media have made clichés out of half a dozen answers. Jonathan Paper­nick has cre­at­ed a ter­ri­fy­ing nov­el that illu­mi­nates the dark cor­ners of those souls who will give their lives for a cause with­out regard for their own suf­fer­ing or that of others.

Though this beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book teems with ful­ly real­ized sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, most of the insights derive from the por­trait of the cen­tral char­ac­ter — Matthew Stone. This por­trait is so mag­nif­i­cent­ly paint­ed, Matthew is so bril­liant­ly and pre­cise­ly indi­vid­u­al­ized, that the stock respons­es to the impor­tant ques­tion are over­whelmed and trans­formed. No more glib talk. Real life.

We meet Matthew, a twen­ty-five-year-old los­er with no job, no accom­plish­ments, and no self-worth, as he shak­i­ly responds to his father’s death. Judge Wal­ter Stone is a ver­sion of the great man.” A giant in his pro­fes­sion, dis­graced by his own dri­ves, he had giv­en Matthew the tough­est kind of love — absence and den­i­gra­tion. Yet he remained a giant among mil­i­tant Zionists.

The judge’s father, also a Zion­ist hero and a sim­i­lar kind of dis­ap­prov­ing parent,was a feared gangster.

Through his father’s horde of books, books anno­tat­ed with what seem like clues for Matthew’s des­tined role in life, and through the approach­es of Jew­ish ter­ror­ist lead­ers plan­ning a major offen­sive, Matthew finds his cause. Or is he care­ful­ly manip­u­lat­ed into it? Or is it his genet­ic patrimony?

Those han­dling his indoc­tri­na­tion under­stand his needs and play upon his fears and insecurities.

Matthew is char­ac­ter­ized in part by his many self-inflict­ed cig­a­rette burns. They are at once self-pun­ish­ment for his unwor­thi­ness, pains that mask oth­er pains, and pains that awak­en him from the fog­gy depres­sion in which he spends his life and allow him to focus.

Find­ing, com­mit­ting to, and pro­vid­ing effec­tive action in the ser­vice of his defin­ing cause (coun­ter­ing Pales­tin­ian legit­i­ma­cy and mur­der­ing Pales­tin­ian lead­ers and par­ti­sans) becomes his way of escap­ing from neg­a­tive self-judg­ment, join­ing an elite com­mu­ni­ty, and valu­ing, lov­ing, and final­ly hon­or­ing his father through redeem­ing action. But it is all a grotesque sickness.

Most impor­tant to the suc­cess of the nov­el are Papernick’s depic­tions of Matthew’s key rela­tion­ships. The first among these is with his moth­er, who has been manip­u­lat­ed by an FBI agent to return to the son she had aban­doned many years ago for his own good.” Next is Matthew’s ten­u­ous love affair with a young woman who has equiv­a­lent emo­tion­al scars. Final­ly, his rela­tion­ship with his father’s for­mer col­league, a rab­bi who needs Matthew to trans­fer funds sequestered for Zion­ist ter­ror operations.

Just wait until you dis­cov­er what goes on inside that Brook­lyn ware­house and how the Days of Awe and Jew­ish rit­u­als fig­ure in this astound­ing explo­ration of moral­i­ty and madness.

Relat­ed Content:

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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