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Nicolette Linden
The Bequest: The Enhanced Edition
Upon turning thirty, a woman receives a package containing two documents forbidden to her since her teens-her foretold bequest. Stunned by what she reads, she gives up her career to pursue getting this material published! She must. Now she is tasked with devising a narrative arc to bridge these documents but, to frame them properly, she finds it necessary to create a spiral lattice of interwoven perspectives. Emotionally riveting, The Bequest is also an intellectual feast, filled with quiet literary jokes and both veiled and overt allusions to the works of Shakespeare, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, John Fowles, Pink Floyd, and Nicole Krauss.
Linden’s ambitious collage of a novel of stories-within-stories and plays-within-lives celebrates and interrogates questions of truth, fiction, and storytelling. It opens with a woman, also named Nicolette, who has gained possession of her “bequest” from her mother, a pair of manuscripts, the first being The Walrus, a personally revealing play that her mother forbade her from reading until she turned 30. The Walrus follows William and Jilian—the name of the mother of the novel’s Nicolette—as they navigate the waters of a relationship, with William often rejecting Jilian sexually until she can prove that she is in touch with her true feelings. The Bequest also includes scenes of Nicolette speaking to Morton Seiden, who championed her mother’s work, and his lecture notes for his teaching of The Walrus. Along the way, these characters discuss literature, love, legacy, and how we “metabolize” them all.

The novel is clever and complex—another manuscript, Jillian’s Confession, figures in as well—but easy to follow. It will appeal to readers who love literary puzzles, interlocking portraits of relationships, and playful but dead-serious inquiry into the complexities of love, sex, and family. While the characters all offer their own incisive commentary about the central relationships, Linden leaves it to readers to reach their own conclusions: the William of the play seems intended as enlightened and sensitive yet comes off as controlling and manipulative—if that’s intentional, which author intends it? (Late in the book, Linden smartly upends some assumptions about authorship and perspective, casting a new light on what’s come before–and stirring more questions.)

Dr. Seiden’s lecture notes, meanwhile, gush with comic overstatement about the very works we’re reading (“the most beautiful, tender and erotic in all of literature”) yet also reveal striking insights that enrich the whole. Readers who find such play rewarding will find this novel a fest of ideas, surprises, and consistent sharp, engaging, prose.

Takeaway: A playful meta-novel whose stories within stories examine love.

Comparable Titles: Nicole Krauss, John Barth.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B