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The Deadwood Beetle
Date of Review: 
James Polk
The New York Times

Mylène Dressler's second novel is permeated by guilt and memory. Tristan Martens, an aging Dutch professor of entomology at a New York university, is wandering through an antique shop when he's confronted by an ugliness from his past in the form of his mother's battered old sewing table, on which is scrawled an ambiguous message. The discovery triggers a difficult journey into a part of Tristan's life he had thought safely buried, and he is thrust into an unfamiliar world of feeling, responsibility and (most surprising of all to a man so deliberately withdrawn into the abstractions of science) warm human contact. Dressler has assembled some fine supporting characters to assist Martens in gradually realizing his own humanity: Cora Lowenstein, the owner of the antique store, and her husband, Sandor, as well as Elida Hernandez, the last graduate student Martens will take on before his retirement. In a way, even the beetles Elida is studying contribute to Martens's understanding that life offers more than simple answers. When Elida asks, ''Do you think it's possible everything mimics everything else?'' she may be talking about bugs, but she's also hinting at the splendid ambivalence that marks this novel.