The Ugly

Alexan­der Boldizar

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MEAGAN LOGSDON

Brook­lyn Arts Press Soft­cover $19.95 (368pp) 978-1-936767-47-2

Comed­i­cally ab­surd but also in­tro­spec­tive, The Ugly chal­lenges dog­matic cling­ing to the let­ter of the law.

Alexan­der Boldizar’s The Ugly is a glo­be­trot­ting tour de force that ex­am­ines the com­plex re­la­tion­ship be­tween words and ac­tions.

When the hid­den Siberian vil­lage of Verkhoy­ansk comes un­der the threat of an Amer­i­can tourist in­va­sion, Muzh­duk the Ugli the Fourth must em­bark, armed with a per­fect LSAT score, on a jour­ney to Har­vard Law School.

In Cam­bridge, Muzh­duk en­ters into are­nas of words and law, where bat­tles are not waged by throw­ing boul­ders, and where ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships are far more com­plex than they are in Siberia. Nav­i­gat­ing the murky waters of logic, bu­reau­cratic red tape, and the oc­cult, Muzh­duk even­tu­ally trav­els to Sa­ha­ran Africa, chasing Peggy Roundtree, the other stu­dent with the per­fect LSAT whose place he took. Muzh­duk finds that he must bal­ance his phys­i­cal strength with the power of words in or­der to be­come the vil­lage chief he was al­ways meant to be.

Rid­dled with comedic ab­sur­dity, the novel blends touches of re­al­ism with in­tro­spec­tive and po­etic prose that toes the line be­tween so­lid­ity and ob­scu­rity. Muzh­duk’s ex­pe­ri­ences at Har­vard, con­veyed in the third per­son, are in­ter­wo­ven with his African jour­ney, told in the first per­son. This eases ori­en­ta­tion be­tween sec­tions, as jumps in space and time oc­cur through­out chap­ters.

All three set­tings—sib­era, Africa, and Cam­bridge—are de­picted as harsh, al­beit in dif­fer­ing ways. In clos­ing chap­ters, time and space seem to col­lapse un­til there are no more lines of de­mar­ca­tion, ex­cept for the an­chor­ing voice of Muzh­duk.

The cast is well drawn. Pro­fes­sor Sclera is a haughty ver­bal op­po­nent; the mys­te­ri­ous Pro­fes­sor Oedda en­tan­gles Muzh­duk in her bed and her oc­cult lean­ings. Peggy, more con­cerned with the act­ing to cor­rect in­jus­tice than merely dis­cussing it, serves as a lovely foil to Oedda’s mys­tic and con­tem­pla­tive ap­proach.

The Ugly deftly em­ploys the ab­surd to chal­lenge ex­clu­sive, dog­matic cling­ing to logic and the let­ter of the law.

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