Isidore Mazal is the youngest of six children. He’s eleven and unlike his five older siblings, he is not going to be skipping four or five years of high school or getting his doctorate before he’s twenty-four. He is a moth in a family of intellectual butterflies.In a family that is all about intelligence, Izzy feels maladept. His siblings are even better at watching television than he, predicting the endings and analyzing them through the framework of Aristotle’s Poetics. 

He does not have a plan for his future and so  he decides he wants to be a German teacher, not for love of teaching or of German, but because the father loves German. Then the father dies. (Everyone, including his mother, call his father, “the father” all the time.) The family seems to handle their grief extraordinarily well, retreat back into their books and research, except Izzy who has no intellectual escape from life. Instead he pursues life, he sees and pays attention to people and their lives.

Izzy is a kind boy. He wonders why his siblings are often unkind since he thinks it’s so much easier to be kind. He’s not quite sure his best friend Denise is his best friend because he’s too kind to not be her friend. She is, he admits, a downer. He runs away frequently, but not so anyone notices. He is earnest with no irony. He is just a wonderful person who has no idea how special he is.

How to Behave in a Crowd is not just a good book. It is extraordinary. When I finished it, I was hesitant to start a new novel because it will suffer by comparison. Someone needs to invent a book palate cleanser so books this special don’t cast a shadow over the several books that follow in its wake. I started a huge nonfiction book so I won’t be looking for the kind of writing that raises goose bumps. From Simone’s funnel of life choices to Izzie translating bad news into German so that it seems more distant, there’s just so many wonderful ideas in this book.

Frequently quietly comical and infinitely kind, How to Behave in a Crowd is rich in characters and ideas. His siblings may intellectualize nearly every single thing, but you can feel their love for Izzy, even if he sometimes misses it. It’s hard to describe what this book is about. It just is. And it is loving, kind, humorous, and thoughtful book that I want everyone to read.

How to Behave in a Crowd will be released August 15th. I received an ARC from the publisher through a drawing at LibraryThing.

How to Behave in a Crowd at Penguin Random House | Tim Duggan Books

Camille Bordas interview at The New Yorker

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