The Big Kahn
The Big Kahn has an immediately gripping concept — at his funeral, a beloved rabbi is revealed to not be Jewish. He’s a con man who 40 years ago fell in love and decided to become what he was pretending to be.
His long-lost brother appears to say his final goodbyes, telling everyone the truth. His family — the widow; his son Avi, a rabbi following in his footsteps; his daughter Lea, previously non-observant; and the youngest child, Eli — are all shaken in their faith and their relationships by this revelation. Avi was planned to take over the congregation, but they refuse the son of a liar, regardless of his innocence. Lea and her roommate drink, dance, and party to seek escape. Eli, meanwhile, tries to find out more about his father and his legacy, while Mom has her own secret (one that unfortunately isn’t followed through on in the book).
The concepts from writer Neil Kleid are thought-provoking, exploring the nature of faith and its practice. It’s a shame that the art by Nicolas Cinquegrani isn’t up to the strengths of the story. The figures are stiff and often interchangeable; I sometimes had trouble recognizing characters without dialogue to identify them. The expressions are rarely as deep and revealing as the story wants them to be. (At times, they don’t quite fit the heads they’re carried on.) Camera angles flip around, and the reader may not be sure of the details of a scene’s staging or exactly who’s moving where in the space shown. The unvarying rectangular panels can be claustrophobic, which may be intentional, to reflect the pressure on the family.
Something exploring such potent emotions would have been better served by a more experienced artist, I fear. Or it might have been better as something filmed. The chapter transitions, framed as screen wipes, suggest that the idea was in the creators’ minds. With actors, the emotions could have been better portrayed more accurately and with reserve, when necessary. At times, the writer goes for cliché — how better to show that the daughter has rejected her faith than to have her screwing some unidentified guy at her father’s funeral? It’s shock for its own sake, and it doesn’t match the later, more subtle picture Kleid paints of her journey. Kleid has said he was inspired by Six Feet Under, and I can definitely see this as an episode of that show. It’s got the same feel of the family and pacing.
Overall, it’s an involving story, but the artistic execution doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise. Neil Kleid previously wrote Brownsville. This is Nicolas Cinquegrani’s first major work. The publisher has posted preview pages. (The publisher provided a review copy.)