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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Instant Karma

Mark Swartz

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To purchase Instant Karma

Title: Instant Karma
Author: Mark Swartz
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 127 pages
Availability: Instant Karma - US
Instant Karma - UK
Instant Karma - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : decent small entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . (II/2003) T. J. Gerlach

  From the Reviews:
  • "Instant Karma is a smart and funny book, and what emerges from its pages is a worldview that is at times absurd, at times insightful, and at its best a beautiful blur." - T. J. Gerlach, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Instant Karma is a diary-novel, the narrative presented in the form of daily entries from 5 November 1994 to 5 March of the following year by David Edgar Felsenstein. He is twenty-six years old, without much of a life or many friends. Much of what little there is to his life revolves around the Chicago Public Library, which he constantly visits and from which he borrows many books.
       There are few people in his life: his upstairs neighbour Mrs. Bryars and the librarian he pines for, Eve Jablom, are pretty much the extent of it. But even here his contact is limited: arriving home one day to find Mrs. Bryars' things being moved he admits: "I didn't know whether she died or just moved."
       Felsenstein doesn't have a strong identity: he throws around his Jewishness on occasion, but most of the time he's trying to fashion some sort of life-philosophy out of anarchism and Buddhism. He's looking for answers; one of the reasons he's incessantly combing through books is to find affirmation and wisdom:

     If I read enough books I will come across justification for everything that occurs to me.
       But he isn't even really able to read any more: he roots through the books, looking for the pieces to fit to his puzzle, seeking out quick fixes. Wholeness eludes him, and he seems almost incapable of dealing with books as wholes, to be read from beginning to end.
       The daily entries are brief, and usually focus on a single event or train of thought. There's little sense of Felsenstein's daily life. The only hold he finds is in anarchism: a destructive urge that sees him begin with flag-burning and culminates in his plan to blow up the library. "Burning the books will liberate them", he believes.
       The daily entries are brief and to-the-point, often buttressed by footnotes (some 200 of them in all) which generally offer support from some literary source (or allow for yet another quirky aside). It's fairly well done, and entertaining enough, with quite a few clever touches. Felsenstein's philosophising (and rationalizing) aren't always convincing but they do help to make him a convincing (if confused and unsympathetic) character.
       Oddly, Instant Karma isn't a book that revels in the literary. Literature is convenient but not central; it certainly doesn't offer Felsenstein the answers he demands. And he's just as willing to substitute film or philosophy for it. Indeed, despite spending so much time in the library, Felsenstein is only marginally bookish: he occupies himself with these objects (books) -- he handles them, leafs through them, takes notes from them -- but he seems unable to seriously engage with literature, beyond the occasional snippet. He is not a book-lover and, though he doesn't admit it, his final act seems motivated by the failure of books to fill the role he would like them to (as well as, to some extent, his own failure at being able to properly utilize them). He apparently also wishes to deny others the opportunity to find in literature that which he is incapable of finding there.
       There isn't quite enough to Instant Karma, but Felsenstein makes for an interesting voice, and it's a fairly well-presented narrative. Quick-paced, with fun asides, curious observations, and clever illustrations, it's an easily digested entertainment, an amusing if not entirely satisfying little work.

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Instant Karma: Reviews: Chicago Public Library: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction under review

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About the Author:

       Mark Swartz is an American author.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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