The Book of Getting Even

The Book of Getting Even

Son of a rabbi, budding astronomer Gabriel Geismar is on his way from youth to manhood in the 1970s when he falls in love with the esteemed and beguiling Hundert family, different in every way from his own. Over the course of a decade-long drama unfolding in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and the Wisconsin countryside, Gabriel enters more and more passionately and intimately into the world of his elective clan, discovering at the inmost center that he alone must bear the full wieght of their tragedies, past and present. Yet The Book of Getting Even is funny and robust, a novel rich in those fundamentals we go to great fiction for: the exploration of what is hidden, the sudden shocks, the feeling at last of life laid bare.


The Book of Getting Even is a deeply satisfying novel, elegant and intellectually complex. I could read Benjamin Taylor forever.”
—Ann Patchett

“Benjamin Taylor is a superb novelist. His book is marvelous in its originality, depth, sensitivity and power.”
—Romulus Linney

“Among the most original novels I have read in recent years. The story Taylor tells is a romance of brains — brains working well, then tragically giving out. The book is exuberant and charming and heartbroken by turns; indeed, the jaggedness of the ride is one of the things I like best, along with Taylor’s proceeding by ironies. Add to that a lyricism, an ear for dialogue, a strong feel for place, and a highly developed dramatic sense and you begin to have an idea of this novelist’s exceptional gift.”
—Philip Roth

“The voice of the outsider looking in has served many great novels well—among them, notably, The Great Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited. Benjamin Taylor’s The Book of Getting Even takes its place alongside its illustrious forebears; it is an intelligent, emotionally resonant novel whose first-person narrative is unafraid to shine a clear, unblinking light onto the tricky themes of sexuality, American class systems, Jewishness, and familial bonds. The Book is Getting Even is beautiful in its elegance and fearlessness, and is almost impossible to put down, from compelling beginning to poignantly surprising end.”
—Kate Christensen

“Even as a teenager, mathematics prodigy Gabriel Geismar finds ways to cope with life; he distracts himself from what is base [ .   .   . ] by thinking of numbers, and he finds a new family after a hateful standoff with his rabbi father. As a 16-year-old freshman at Swarthmore in 1970, Gabriel is approached by fraternal twins Danny and Marghie Hundert; both fall in love with him, and he reciprocates these feelings physically with Danny. An unexpected bonus is the twins’ father, the renowned physicist Dr. Gregor Hundert, who, along with his wife, envelopes Gabriel in familial love, then guides his budding career. Tragedy ensues, as the Vietnam War causes Danny to follow his principles to extremes, while his father suffers dementia. Losses aside, Gabriel—with a doctorate and associate professorship in astrophysics—finds solace in his concept of the universe, from multiple galaxies to the smallest insect. A beautifully written and keenly intelligent novel, set in a context of cosmology, this is in turn humorous, almost unbearably moving, and comforting, as it points the way to Gabriel’s “perfect freedom.”
—Michele Leber, Booklist (starred review)

“In this delightful, character-driven coming-of-age novel, Gabriel Geismar grows up in mid-20th-century New Orleans as the only son of a rabbi, maturing into a brilliant, homosexual mathematician who is out of sync with his father’s values. At Swarthmore in 1970, Gabriel meets the twins Daniel and Marghie Hundert, the children of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gregor Hundert, one of the so-called Hungarian Eight who emigrated to America and worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the bomb. Fascinated by the stately, Old World professor and his kindly wife, Lilo, and deeply attached to Marghie, a cinema-obsessed vegetarian, and to Daniel, an angry counterculture figure, Gabriel spends the summer with the family at their Wisconsin retreat, which yields cherished conversation and understanding. As Gabriel departs to study astrophysics at the University of Chicago, the tempo of Daniel’s activism builds, and Marghie begins running a movie house. When the once great professor sinks into senile dementia, Lilo makes a necessary but terrible decision for them all. The editor of Saul Bellow’s forthcoming letters, Taylor turns in a smart, humane look at what Gabriel calls the era’s “intergenerational rancor.”
Publishers Weekly

“This elegiac novel features the long, tragic friendship of three young people coming of age in the 1970s. They meet as undergraduates at Swarthmore and begin their adult lives full of promise. By the end of the novel, that promise has given way to sadness, regret, and defeat, mainly because of bad choices. All three protagonists are skillfully rendered. Daniel and Marghie are twins, children of a Nobel prize-winning physicist, while Gabriel is the son of a rabbi from New Orleans . [ . . .] Much here is beautifully drawn: Gabriel’s failed or unrealized romantic relationships prove especially poignant. These young people also lose their parents, and Taylor handles these passages with eloquence and pathos. This is a novel about friendship, loneliness, and the hazards adults encounter as they make their way in the world.”
Library Journal

The Book of Getting Even is beautiful and beguiling. I especially admire Benjamin Taylor’s ability to pack so much complex life into such an elegant package. It seems almost miraculous.”
—Peter Cameron

“Reading The Book of Getting Even is like first encountering Fanny and Zooey or Brideshead Revisited. I never expected to feel quite that way about a book again, and this one even disturbed my dreams two nights running, which doesn’t happen unless one is in a very heady realm indeed. What a tour de force, and what a pleasure. Benjamin Taylor is a literary magician.”
—Beth Gutcheon

The Book of Getting Even has everything: Margaret Sullivan and Squeaky Fromme, Frank Borzage and John von Neumann and Henry Kissinger. It is immensely sane, witty, worldly, and entertaining, line by line (the best way to read any book).”
—Phillip Lopate

“What a wonderfully unusual and refreshing novel! From the very first page of The Book of Getting Even, you know you’re in the hands of a virtuoso of words and an energetic storyteller. Benjamin Taylor’s hero, an astronomer-to-be, and his chosen family are flung about mercilessly by history, and their surprising destinies are played out against nothing less than the physical universe itself — from the farthest stars to the creepy things underfoot. This book is a splendid gift for the mind as well as the heart. ”
—Lynne Sharon Schwartz

“An electric, arresting piece of writing, every bit on par with — and every bit as rich as — its brilliant title.”
—Stacy Schiff

“Finding one’s true home at the heart of another family is the theme of this eloquent, highly intelligent novel, a kind of love story not often seen, rendered in beautiful sentences flecked with humor and pain, the front-row report of a young man’s great good luck.”
—Amy Hempel

“Benjamin Taylor’s new novel, The Book of Getting Even, is literary fiction of the first water and a fitting successor to the evocative bildungsroman Tales Out of School. Here, Taylor looks with gimlet eye at family life — the vexed relations of fathers and sons and sisters and brothers — yet his vision is wide and deep; this is a book about literature and astrophysics, politics and persons, anxiety and belief, entomology and our place in the universe. Touching, tender, searing, exhilarating, it is written with unpretentious wisdom.”
—Brenda Wineapple


“The Great American Novel in Miniature”
Review of The Book of Getting Even by David Goodwillie
The, May 14th, 2009

“Fiction as Fibbing”
Audio interview with Carlin M. Wragg
Open Loop Press, November 2008

The Book of Getting Even by Benjamin Taylor”
Review by Jonathan Kirsch
Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2008

“Last Line”
Benjamin Taylor on The Book of Getting Even
Esquire, June 10, 2008

“Books Briefly Noted: The Book of Getting Even
Review of The Book of Getting Even
The New Yorker, June 9, 2008