Book Review: A Cerebral Offer — When Harry Met Nadine

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So you are bored with your girlfriend and want to break up but surprise: she confesses she has been cheating on you with her work “friend.”

Poor Harry Gnostopolos is having a bad time of it. And his girlfriend’s betrayal is just the start.

Shortly thereafter, he reconnects with his friend, Jackson Halifax, a writer who hit the big time and then disappeared from the literary scene. Harry finds out that Jackson, in the couple of decades since they last met, has owned and operated a winery and also been a boxer. Oh, and in addition, he commits odd crimes, big and small, for a mysterious Madame X who leaves cryptic instructions.

He — as well as we the readers — wonders if indeed he is telling the truth or if his tales spring from his creative mind.

Harry, who has made one film in his youth, is coming to grips with the fate of his failing old-yet-charming movie theater, which his accountant warns repeatedly, is going under. It is at this juncture that Jackson presents Harry with a cerebral offer that he can’t refuse: commit a huge crime and then make enough money to keep the theater going and possibly make a life with a new partner, Nadine, a gorgeous émigrée who is as fascinated with the Beats as Harry is.

Harry is almost relieved that his long-term partner confesses that she has cheated on him; now he can devote himself to chasing this mysterious woman without suffering from pangs of guilt.

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What will Harry do? Can they pull it off? Can Jackson be trusted? And why the hell is Harry afraid of bridges and will he cross one?

Ken Janjigian pours a lot of himself into A Cerebral Offer. The books is rife with movie references, from “Casa Blanca” to “Cinema Paradiso” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to obscure films on Beat poets. He wishes he were like Jack Kerouac and the other Beatniks, admiring their willingness to thumb their noses at the conformist and suffocating post-World War II America and head to warmer and more receptive climes to get high and reach a higher truth.

A Cerebral Offer is a fast read. The characters hurtle toward each other at the speed of light and we the readers feel like we might want to have a word with Harry about him losing his head over the young woman he has just met and the offer for riches his old, unstable friend presents.

Janjigian offers beautiful descriptions of San Francisco, almost making it one of the characters in the book. He captures all of it: the fog, the romance, the old-time remnants and the new money.

Even President Kennedy’s missing brain makes an appearance. What is the real story of his assassination? And what happened to his remains? Those questions occupy a good portion of the book. And of course, A Cerebral Offer includes plenty of references to Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”

Ultimately, this is a book about exorcising past demons and looking ahead. Can you ever recreate the experiences of one’s youth? Which option is better, the slow and boring or the risky and risqué? We see Harry as he tries to navigate a passionate love affair which may lead nowhere as well as his enduring passion for his beloved city and the movie theater to which he has dedicated his life.

Topics: book review

He offers plenty of visual cues, thus making it a good candidate for a possible movie treatment.

We can only hope Harry can find his happily ever after and stays out of trouble.

 

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