The Golem and the Jinni
The Golem and the Jinni takes place in New York city from the summer of 1899 to summer 1900. As immigrants from all over the world stream through Ellis Island, a couple of supernatural beings drift into the city and there they form a bond. That’s all you really need to know. Sure, there’s some business about an evil wizard, but he doesn’t take up that much of the plot. The book is a series of portraits of people, human and non, who are getting used to life in a strange new country. It would have worked better as a set of loosely connected short stories, which makes me wonder if Wecker’s editor forced her to make it into a novel.
The characters are delightful and I have a lot of respect for someone who can wrangle an omniscient narrator as well as Helene Wecker does, but the book sags in the middle. It relies on a lot of coincidences. (The way the golem and the jinni meet each other is glaring. New York City is how big and they just happen to bump into each other the one night the golem goes out walking?) The book is nearly five hundred pages long, but it doesn’t give the feeling of sweeping epicness that would justify its weight.
This may sound strange, but I found the body count oddly satisfying. People die in this book and they stay dead. No Disney resurrections here. Yet whenever a character dies, there’s a reason it happened and it means something to the other characters. Wecker does a great job of making the book dark, but not too dark.
The blurb on the cover said this was Wecker’s first novel and I don’t believe it for a moment. She has too much of a command of the English language for this to be her first attempt. There’s a lot more manuscripts sitting in Wecker’s desk drawer, and I’m looking forward to seeing them.