Vol. XXXI, #2 Gilbert Sorrentino and Mulligan Stew
Vladislav Todorov. Zift: A Noir Novel. Trans. Joseph Benatov. Paul Dry Books, 2010. 200 pp. Paper: $14.95.
Zift is raw asphalt, chewed by aficionados like gum; as a slang term it also means dirt or shit. Lev Zhelyazkov, nicknamed "Moth," antihero of this fast-paced novel, chews it incessantly while involved in a long night of catching shit upon his release from a Bulgarian prison, serving twenty years for a murder he didn't commit. As soon as Lev is out, clad in an overlarge, dated gabardine suit, two security types accost and carry him off to another sort of prison, in a grimy bathhouse, for no apparent reason. The rest of Todorov's novel relates Lev’s more or less ineffectual attempts to repel his captors, rejoin his wife, and learn about the son they had, who was born and died during his father’s imprisonment. At length, fleeing the bathhouse, Lev traverses a sordid world amid the streets of Sofia, retracing the convolutions of the murder scenario, during which he stumbles upon Slug, his slimy accomplice in the jewel heist that went wrong, who is now an apparatchik himself, bent on rubbing out his erstwhile partner in crime. In another opportunistic meeting Lev discovers his wife, for whom he took the murder rap, singing in a bar. Although they swiftly, passionately reconcile, soon afterward Lev must unravel a succession of stories about what she did, where she was, and what happened to their son during Lev’s enforced estrangement. This hunt takes on added importance when Lev finds that he has been dosed unwittingly with a poison for which there is no antidote. Assailed by time, the cold, and betrayal, Lev finally meets, in the cemetery where his parents and child are buried, a crew of philosophical gravediggers whose hearty optimism disarms his world-weariness. Todorov’s raw, hard-boiled parody takes dead aim at noir and leaves it gasping for breath. [Michael Pinker]