I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
I stumbled on Crossings by Alex Landragin in a local book store in Waco. For some reason, I was looking for something to pique my imagination. I was about to leave the store that day, but I decided on a whim to try it out, with a careful eye on my “Rule of Fifty.” When I got home, I began to read, and before I knew it, I was closing in on 100 pages. What kept me going was the bizarre changes the characters underwent. I am now glad I took it all the way to the end. That end is what I needed to keep me in suspense.
Crossings is a rather peculiar story involving three separate characters, several mysterious murders--including horrific mutilations, and attempts at escaping the Nazis. Landragin begins with a preface, “I didn’t write this book. I stole it. // Several summers ago, I received a call in my workshop on Rue des Bernardins from the noted bibliophile and book collector Beattie Ellingham. She wished to have me bind a loose-leaf manuscript that she described as the pride of her collection. There were no constraints of time or money, she said, but there was a condition, to which I agreed: I was not to read its contents. The manuscript was, in her estimation, priceless and I was to bind it accordingly. We agreed that it would be bound in what is called the COSWAY style, in doublure, framed with pearls, using material she would provide. // I’d known Beattie Ellingham all my life. She was one of the Philadelphia Ellinghams” (xi).
Another aspect of the story revolves around the manuscript of a previously unknown story by Charles Baudelaire, “The Education of a Monster.” The Preface also mentions, “To an untrained eye, it seemed as if the details surrounded the Baroness’s death had been hushed up” (xiv). Unable to contact the Baroness, the thief reads the startlingly amazing book.
To end the preface, Alex wrote, “Having come to know it intimately, I believed there are at least seven ways Crossings may be interpreted: as an imagined story—an anonymous work, therefore of fiction; as an elaborate joke, prank, or puzzle inexplicably fabricated by [the owner] himself; as a hoax or forgery concocted by an unknown third party; as the delusions of a man in declining health and under overwhelming psychic pressure; as a complex and subterranean allegory or fable; or as a thinly veiled memoir” (xviii). Just these hints are enough to make me want to find out exactly what happened.
Furthermore, in a “Note to the Reader,” a list of twenty-pages numbered in order to read the book back and forth, rather than from page one straight through to the end. Crossings, by Alex Landragin, is an absorbing and amazing story. I am going to read it again—this time I will follow the maze of numbers. 5 Stars!
Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I’m Jim McKeown. Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!