What do you know about the biblical -- or quasi-biblical, depending on your background in theological knowledge/controversy or whether you are "born again" or not -- idea of "The Rapture?" What do you know about its citations in the Bible -- and that is citations either with or without quotation marks depending upon your viewpoint in general on biblical meaning, whether it should be literal or figurative or both, and how you would know how to tell the difference? What do you know about scholarship -- once again with or without quotes depending on whether the commentators have any real knowledge of linguistic history or any other factual capabilities and expertise, other than those self-awarded by the self-anointed and self-appointed and self-crowned -- that has grown up around the concept since, apparently, extra-Biblically (according to the Wikipedia entry) 1788? If your answer is that you know very little about it, your attention may have been fixed on quite different materials during the last 70 years or so, for those years have seen a burgeoning of materials including, but not limited to, timelines, movies, television programs -- including an episode of The Simpsons -- and, of course, the print media in general, and including other means of self-publication such as the Internet, where this topic has proliferated like a kudzu vine or milkweed or dandelions. And now comes Marc Estrin with his fourth published novel, "That Lamentations of Julius Marantz", a book that not only explores "The Rapture", but does so by means of references to the Newtonian and other laws of physics, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Byron's "Childe Harold", and a basketful of words, beginning with 'xanthotic' on page nine -- it was not in the unabridged Merriam-Webster online, but undoubtedly means 'yellowish', or something made to be 'yellowish', such as "... xanthotic raisins in a high-tech scone", its use in Estrin's book At this juncture it is to the point to ask: what is the purpose of the genre called novel? Is the purpose of the novel to stimulate philosophical, medical or other '-ical' or '-ious' thought; to send us off on a focused search in the areas of human knowledge to which we otherwise might give no time whatsoever? Is it to engender questions such as that posted on the back cover of the novel: "Who would benefit if they really did bring The Rapture on?" Should a novel be engaged in other than the exploration of the human condition, and up to what point can a novel explore that human condition without crossover a line into some form of didacticism that demands much of the reader and much in terms of dictionaries, search engines, and the necessary reading of the other books or sections of books such as the Lamentations of Jeremiah or Byron's "Childe Harold"? In other words, when does a novel approach textbookdom (a pertinent question, because Estrin has published Reader's Guides to at least two of his prior novels)? When does a novel move from the erudite to the instructional, and upon what does this move depend? In the view of this reader, Estrin walks a tightrope between erudition and instruction -- he always demands erudition of his readers, and sometimes he errs on the side of instruction. For those who expect a novel to be some way to kill a bus ride from home to work, Estrin is not your man. His writing is as incapable of being verbal Muzak as the works of Charles Ives could be elevator music: it demands the reader's attention. Indeed, without paying attention to the allusive -- not to say elusive -- character out of Estrin's writing would be to miss the majority of his reasons for writing -- separating out from the mix the activism which permeates his being, which is at least one of the real drive engines for his work. The reader has little more to do than to read through the contents of "Julius Marantz" to understand my last statement: there are Arabic numbers for chapters, there are Hebrew letters used for chapter heads, there are parodies of famous book titles, partial quotes from songs and Christmas hymns -- in other words, the whole battery of allusive shorthand to enrich a story. Is this a book worth grappling with? As I look at the disassembled parts of the novel, like Eliot's evening " spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table; " I am certain of one thing: I will continue to grapple with the book so that I can absorb the living totality of the book. Then -- and only then -- will I be capable of answering my own question: Is this a book worth grappling with?" I suspect that it is. If you decide to challenge yourself with Estrin's book, and have some commentary that you wish to add, you may send it to me at
. It's the closest thing to a blog that I have.