Masha Edelman yearns for a life on the stage and to escape her strict religious family. Miles away, in a safe suburban neighbourhood, family man Leslie Senzatimore longs to be a hero. They have little idea of what lies ahead for them. Through a cosmic sleight of hand enters Jacob, a man who has travelled a long way through time, and is determined to make his mark on the lives of these two strangers. What follows is a rollicking, sparkling story of kinship, freedom and belonging.
Suspending disbelief is the biggest challenge of Miller's audacious new novel, not least because the Jacob of the title is a Jewish peddler from late 18th-century Paris who has been reincarnated on Long Island in the 21st as a fly. Jacob the fly becomes a kind of demon to a melancholy volunteer firefighter named Leslie and a lovely but conflicted Jewish actress named Masha. When Jacob realizes he can discern their dreams and influence their actions he determines to change their fates. The narrative buzzes back and forth through time, chronicling Jacob's shedding of his Jewish identity to become valet to the comte de Villars and, in time, an actor in the Com die-Fran aise, while keeping the reader abreast of the unraveling lives of Leslie and Masha. Scads of narrative threads are sewn together with impressive and often lovely wordplay to form a vast historical fabric of Jacob's Jewish family. Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) almost takes the to and fro trajectories too far, but she is so clever when dwelling in the mind and body of that insect that the reader is rarely exasperated. An unusual and absorbing read.