“To grasp Cyprus in its essence both mythic and real, hurry up and join Bart Beasley’s fantastic expedition, as told in this priceless novel by master storyteller Larry Lockridge.” — Takis Kayalis, Professor of Modern Greek Literature, Hellenic Open University; formerly with the University of Cyprus.

A zoologist, a nutritionist, a meteorologist and a sociolinguist walk into a taverna … 

The motley team chats over chips and roasted songbirds about such light topics as Henry Kissinger, a brief history of Cyprus and the Knights Templar. Observing his fellows, the narrator, a self-described “older melancholic scribbler from Ottawa,” remarks, “I note with some embarrassment that the careers of all my fellows emerged from similar ironies. I’d call mine a self-reactive theory of human personality, mercifully not universal. We become what we are to escape what we were.”

Reflections such as these are the underlying current of The Great Cyprus Think Tank, a heady meditation on life on every level with a satirical bent as penned by Larry Lockridge. The group is on a mission to, through the lens of science, fix the woes they see as besetting the island. But nothing is entirely objective, which is itself a concept put under the microscope as the chapters unfold. The narrative switches focus from the emotional landscape of human beings to the physical landscape, and let’s not forget the cultural, historical and societal landscapes. 

KEEP YOUR WITS ABOUT YOU

The descriptions and imagery are as detailed as any guidebook. You can practically feel the exotic air seeping into the room as you read. Unlike a typical guidebook, this is a book with personality. The narrator, Bart Beasley, is indeed a deep thinker and almost chronically self-aware. He name-drops Shakespeare, Keats and Bartleby the Scrivener with the inevitable glance of pretentiousness that one might expect from a man with a doctorate in sociolinguistics. 

Bart and company take Cyprus by storm, and their group expands. The initial quartet is odd enough even before introducing a neurologist named Albert Vygotsky (supposedly a Nobel-prizewinner-to-be who perfects a serum designed to bring about world peace as evidenced through experiments on rats) and an archaeologist named Melusina (who waxes poetic about unearthing a figure of Aphrodite and who’s grandfather was in a Nazi archeological think tank). Lockridge never lets the reader forget that these are both erudite scholars and somewhat nutty people: it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Bart searches for a missing notebook, and when he does find his literary gem, he reads and has internal dialogues with the author throughout, creating a meta, book-within-a-book situation. At a later point, hired impersonators play the roles of now-deceased great thinkers, including Shakespeare. The performance leads to a play-within-a-book and brings to light nearly as much as its Hamlet precursor. A kidnapping, a wedding and an earthquake also ensue. This book might be the most unique cocktail of trivia, travel brochure and treatise on humanity ever encountered; throw in the pencil drawings that precede each new chapter and you also see some art. 

BLURRING PRESCRIBED LITERARY LINES

This Think Tank is one big quest composed of many smaller ones, all overcomplicated by romantic and sexual attraction. While a fictional account, reading it resembles opening an authentic adventure log kept by an eminent scholar. The characters bicker, banter, educate and flirt on the strange shores they study, freely taking many detours from the rigid road of research. 

Such is the case with humans. The narrator discloses, “The story I’m telling is a parable of human life in the demented early twenty-first century, not a jeu d’esprit, if packaged like one. When you’ve turned the last page or fingered your way to the last frame on your accursed Kindle, think over what you’ve read and maybe you’ll agree. I’ll step aside now and get on with my story for I sense in my readership an impatience with literary metaphysics.” Therein lies the fine line between fact and fiction, jest and earnest, or author and character housed in the pages of Larry Lockridge’s intriguing and playful parable. 

Buy this book!

Larry Lockridge is a writer living in New York City. Professor Emeritus of English, New York University, and a Guggenheim Fellow, he is best known for the prizewinning biography of his father, Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr., the author of Raintree County. The Great Cyprus Think Tank is the second of four standalone yet interrelated novels, The Enigma Quartet, to be published by Iguana Books.