Rare Stuff is a Jewish-American ecofictional novel about planetary and oceanic precarity, about words unsaid while difficult people are still alive, about love and being afraid to love. A photographer living in the East Village in 1995, Sidney Zimmerman is in love with (but also separated from) her boyfriend, André, a Blewish Melville scholar from Guadeloupe. Sid trawls around the village, producing portraits of interracial couples and wallpapering her apartment with them. In Chicago, alone in an ambulance, Sid’s father, the novelist Aaron Zimmerman, dies unexpectedly; Sid flies out to scatter Aaron’s ashes in Lake Michigan and discovers two life-changing objects in his chaotic apartment: a suitcase packed full of mysterious clues (a lone red high-heeled shoe, a paperweight, a matchbook, a pendant in the shape of the Torah, a sculpture) to lead her to the discovery of what happened to her mother, Dorothy (a Canadian linguist), vanished since Sid was a child and thus marooning her in an endless mystery. Sid also finds her father’s newest novel, Slobgollion, completed the day before his untimely death. (A Canadian linguist), vanished since Sid was a child and thus marooning her in an endless mystery. Sid also finds her
father’s newest novel, Slobgollion, completed the day before his untimely death. As Sid and André trace each clue and read the manuscript they come closer to the strange truth about Dorothy and closer to each other. Slobgollion forms a novel-within the novel and the chapters interleave the two closely related stories. In Slobgollion, the thirteen-year-old narrator, Solange, discovers that her father, Ishmael, who had been missing without a trace for a year, has been taken into protective custody in whale-designed oxygenated glass rooms by the whales of the world because an evil corporation with genocidal intentions wants to silence him. Why? Because Ishmael knows that the corporation and its greedy CEO, Drake Barents, has tried to steal the whales’ crucial energy source, causing mass beachings. But Barents also urgently needs to silence Ishmael because, as president of the National CetologicalSociety, Ishmael understands that whales of the global oceans have been attempting to communicate with humans since 1905 when they learned Yiddish. Solange and her dog confront head-on dread-Drake, in his all sparkly white re-fitted Hancock Tower in Boston. Yet Drake has no idea that his dastardly plans will be foiled by an elaborate plot concocted by whale engineers. Alternating between the intertwined story of the mysteries in the suitcase that encompass Sid and André’s interracial romance, “interviews” with Aaron Zimmerman, “book reviews” of his diverse novels, and chapters of Slobgollion, Rare Stuff is both melancholy and playful. André narrates the outer novel so it’s spiked with references to Moby-Dick and other literary treasures. My hope is that the book will offer quirky hope in these strange times.