The Mayor’s Tongue – Review

Just finished reading The Mayor’s Tongue a couple of days ago, the debut novel of Nathaniel Rich.  It has two story lines which take turns in spinning their yarns and which mesh seamlessly together. One story line follows youthful Eugene Brentani, who sets off for Italy in search of the daughter of his employer and the woman he may or may not be in love with. The second story follows the elderly Mr. Schmitz who, recently widowed, also travels to Italy in search of his lost friend, Rutherford.

The way the seperate story lines interweave and interact is seamless, a stunning achievement for a debut novel. Rich also gives us characters who we can feel genuinely for. We want our protagonists to succeed and we want the antagonists vanquished.

Unfortunately, this becomes the novel’s achille’s heel.  As each disparate story line builds itself towards its climax and as the storylines begin their eventual convergence, the novel begins to become predictable. Various plot turns can be guessed at fairly easily by an attentive reader and many of the surprises become less surprising but more expected.

Which in itself isn’t a bad thing. A novel does not have to maintain an air of mystery and intrigue throughout and, often, it’s the smaller twists and turns that lift a story beyond itself to become something more. For the most part, however, the small routes and nuances that make a common story unique are absent or delivered without the requisite skill to gain the most punch from them. And the larger twist Rich attempts to deploy at the end only left this reader vaguely disappointed with the outcome of the work and wishing for something more.

This isn’t to say the novel is bad. It is a good read and what it attempts to pull off is commendable.  While it would have taken from a bit from the complexity of this novel, I have to wonder if maybe there wouldn’t have been greater potential in each story line being pulled apart and given more extensive work of their own.  For just as the ending is unsatisfying, I was also left thinking there was far more relevant material about the main characters than was given, and I wouldn’t have minded reading it.

There is a future for Mr. Rich in the fiction game and, judging from the Q&A on his website, he is going to pursue it with another work. But if you wade into The Mayor’s Tongue, do it understanding that the last twenty or so pages may leave you a little disappointed.

The Mayor’s Tongue at Amazon.Com

LA Time Book Review for The Mayor’s Tongue

Radar Review for The Mayor’s Tongue


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