two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
user_rating: 
0

737468.pngIn Elliot Perlman’s best-known work, Seven Types of Ambiguity ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005), seven characters narrate their version of a kidnapping. Perlman is also the author of the novel, Three Dollars (1998), and the story collection, The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming (1999).

The Story: After six years in prison for armed robbery, African American Lamont Williams is offered a probationary job as a hospital janitor. There he meets an elderly cancer patient and Holocaust survivor who shares stories of his time in Auschwitz. Adam Zignelik, the son of a famous Jewish civil rights lawyer, is a Columbia history professor unable to gain tenure. On the surface, Lamont and Adam have little in common. But when Adam discovers a hidden cache of letters from Holocaust survivors, their lives intersect in ways neither could have envisioned.
Riverhead. 640 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9781594488474

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Street Sweeper connects up its large cast of characters, telling a grim but buoyant story, full of humanity and brave acts. Reading it provides that uncommon thrill in fiction: a philosophical page-turner." Karen Schechner

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
"Closer to a whodunit than a philosophical exploration, The Street Sweeper uses the hidden connection between Adam and Lamont, a familiar-enough device, as a red herring to cloak its other secrets. … Perlman elaborates more than he should on distractions like Adam’s habit of speaking to Diana in his head, adding more tedium than background for his psychological state." Ellen Wernecke

San Antonio Exp-News 2 of 5 Stars
"The Street Sweeper is neither as experimental as Seven Types, nor does it match the artistry of the novels of Dickens and Irving. … Imagination has its moments here and there, but originality is just not a strength in Perlman’s new novel." David Hendricks

NY Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"[I]t could serve as a textbook on how not to write fiction. … This 600-plus-page epic turns out to have only a novella’s worth of story and substance: the rest is repetition, over and over, of basic information about who the characters are, where they are and what’s going on, long expository and hortatory speeches that no real person would ever deliver and the padded, ping-ponging dialogue beloved of amateur writers." David Gates

Critical Summary

Perlman’s latest novel explores several important topics—from civil rights and the Holocaust to the importance of history and memory. Bearing in mind its seemingly broad scope, reviewers tried very hard to find something to like about it. But though the Cleveland Plain Dealer found the story "an unforgettable historical thriller," most critics found the novel filled with serious structural and narrative flaws. The New York Times Book Review, the book’s staunchest critic, wrote: "However earnest The Street Sweeper may be about its material—I’ve seldom read a more humorless book—as a novel it’s deadly frivolous." Readers unfamiliar with the Australian writer’s work might want to pick up one of his earlier, and more critically acclaimed, books.