Asymmetry is two stories, one told after the other. In the first, we learn of Alice, some 25 years old and working as a publishing assistant, and her romantic relationship (from the culmination of, through much of the duration) with Ezra Blazer, the roughly 70 year old Pulitzer Prize winning author. This story, most certainly a sketch and rumination on class, as well as stereotypical gender roles.
Ezra is controlling, demanding, and generous. He showers her with gifts, from luxury fashion, to towering piles of books, to ice cream cones. He is seemingly kind, while equally aloof and possessive. What is especially fascinating about this section of the book though is the likely parallel between the story and the authors own affair with Philip Roth. Thus, as the reader, we wonder how much of Ezra is fiction or reflections on Roth.
The relationship between the two becomes one in which Ezra takes too much and Alice asks for hardly anything at all. Wildly unbalanced, her catering to his whims and perceived needs. The reader, experiencing a mounting suspicion for how the relationship may conclude (as in, whenever the scales are tipped so out of whack, tending to eventually collapse).
This part of the book, titled “Folly” exudes an otherworldly, almost fantastical aura in both its imagery and dialogue. The characters name, Alice, being no accident- with a peppering of references to Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland” throughout. The scenes, colorful and sensory. The dialogue, though witty, often over the top and sometimes even nonsensical.
We dont learn much about Alice. Her character only seeming to be partially formed. Not often hearing of her thoughts or own personal yearnings, aside from the exception of random statements she makes here and there attesting to such.
The second story, titled “Madness” centers on Amar, bringing the reader into the holding room alongside him at the airport. His being detained on no obvious or apparent grounds and thus, as the reader, we arrive at the assumption of racism at play. Meanwhile, we are taken back through the trajectory of his life. Becoming versed in Amars childhood, his familial relationships, college years, and first love. He is bright and self aware. On par with Alice in “Folly” in terms of intelligence, however, he is overflowing with emotion, nostalgia, and memories where Alice seems to lack.
Hallidays entire book is rife with sneaky symbolism, iconic scenes, and meaningful quotes. While initially, the asymmetry of the story was laden between Alice and Ezra, in his social standing as compared with hers, their class differences, varying ages, and even the value each one places on their own desires and needs (his, of the utmost, hers instead taking a perpetual backseat and frequently treated as mere afterthought), the asymmetry is apparent within comparison between the Middle East and West, as we read the story of Alice and then of Amar.
This book wows in its prose, which is crackling, unique, even spellbinding at times. Its smart, layered, and one that makes you think. Check it out and experience the gripping and thought-provoking quality of Asymmetry for yourself.