Flea Circus: A Brief Bestiary of Grief (AWP Award for the Novel)

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Winner of the AWP Award for the Novel

Pascal’s Wager and performing fleas. The Haunted Mansion of Long Branch and an old dockside bar. Raceway Park and a pristine 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. A cat named Altamont. These are all that stand between a young mathematician and madness as she attempts to make sense of her lover’s suicide. Narrow margins, you say? Not much to place between a slip of a broken-hearted Jersey Girl and the Abyss? Indeed, it is a treacherous twelve seconds on the quarter mile, hilarious and harrowing by turn. Blink and you’ll miss it.

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About the Author:

MANDY KEIFETZ is a 4th-generation New Yorker. Her work has appeared in .Cent, Penthouse, Vogue, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and other ‘zines too numerous to count. Her first novel, Corrido, has been optioned by a UK production company. She was a Fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2002 and her plays have been staged in New York, London, Cambridge, Montréal, and Oslo. She is an occasional MFA dissertation defense panelist at U-MASS, Amherst. She lives in Brooklyn with an opera composer, their child, and an exuberant hound dog.

From Booklist:

Winner of the AWP Award, Keifetz’s second novel, after Corrido (1998), is a spellbinding story of bereavement. In the wake of her entomologist lover’s suicidal fall down a tenement airshaft, Isabelle “Izzy” Oystershifl, a banker and mathematician from New Jersey, slogs through her grief, realizing just how deeply he affected her soul. Izzy occasionally tends bar in the Irish joint owned by Tim’s brother, Mark, and ponders everything from her faith in reason to the possibility that she might be pregnant. She also looks after the flea circus Tim left behind. In 23 chapters, titled after words beginning with the letters A through W, the novel seamlessly weaves between Izzy’s memories of the past, from which she pieces together an obsessive portrait of Tim, and the present, where she turns to another flea-obsessed entomologist, Pudge Goroguchi, as a fill-in lover, and creates mathematical formulas based on Tim’s fall. Although Izzy’s anguish might prove stagy or irritating in a lesser writer’s hands, Keifetz creates a narrator whose whip-smart narration—sex-drenched, hilarious, and full of wordplay—is anything but a downer. --Jonathan Fullmer

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