I believe I found out about this book through Jeffrey Ford’s Live Journal (though I now can’t find the post). Here is a description from Amazon.Com and Publishers Weekly.
Zivkovic surveys the shifting line between paranoid fantasy and legitimate threat in his mystifying novel. When the unnamed narrator, an undertaker, is invited to a private film screening, he’s surprised to see that the movie is one sustained shot of himself sitting on a park bench. With this episode, a complicated dance begins between the protagonist and his anonymous puppeteers, who manage to send him careening from one wild incident to the next. Directed to a used-book store, he discovers a novel supposedly written by him years in the future; obeying another mysterious invitation, he ventures to the zoo, where he has a close call in a bear cage, and things get worse from there. “Undertakers primarily favor gentle, sentimental films,” he says indignantly, but there’s nothing gentle about his adventures. Readers are propelled along as effectively as the narrator is, but they may be just as confused. As the story progresses, the undertaker’s increasing paranoia makes it impossible to say how much of the danger is real and how much is imagined.
One thing that is left out of the description above is that there is a woman that keeps appearing with a very broad brimmed hat, hiding her face. She too is in the movie, sitting on the bench, and also sitting next to him in the theater during the viewing of the film. She continues to appear in other places.
There are a few good points that description/review mentions, those being paranoia that walks the line between fantasy and reality, and that the reader may be just as confused about what is going on. There is an interesting review by George T. Dodds on SFSite.Com that points out that Dodds himself and others have noticed that Zivkovic’s work has been compared to the likes of Kafka, Borges, and Calvino (I wouldn’t know, I have never read anything by those three, though plan to), and that there is some symbolism happening in the events being played out in his stories, yet we don’t know what it is.
If you take this book from the point of view of reading about someone having a possible misadventure that borders on the surreal, then this is an interesting and entertaining read. That is what I expected, so I don’t look upon my time in reading this as wasted. I don’t expect every book to have a nice, neat finish where all the questions are answered, so that wasn’t a disappointment either. But I was still a bit confused by the end.
The book covers roughly 7 to 8 hours of the unnamed narrator’s life, and there is very little dialog between characters. Out of 217 pages, I would say that there is maybe 10 pages of dialog at the most. You really get into the head of the narrator and see what each moment of waiting and traveling to the next “scene” does with his mind. You see the building paranoia, his back and forth thought process of what is fact and what he doesn’t know, what scares him, and his obvious realization that he is in no real danger, but that everything still makes him tingle with the idea that he may still be in danger.
Each “scene”, which he thinks of them, being parts shot for a hidden camera movie or show, become bizarre and leave both him and me guessing. He eventually hitches a ride with an obstetrician, and given the narrator’s profession of being an undertaker, it made me think that it had something to do with life and death (as other reviewers have pointed out). The woman with the brimmed hat’s bust eventually shows up on top of a tombstone in a cemetery. The narrator then heads for the hospital that the doctor works and comes across a newborn. The baby’s face is that of the woman’s bust on the tombstone after it aged backwards, melting back the years, and there ends the books.
Again, not sure exactly what is was all meant to symbolize. But being a short book, with an entertaining journey to get to the unknown ending, it was a nice diversion.