In a nutshell, “The Convalescent” by Jessica Anthony is a remarkably absurd novel, alternating the contemporary story of Rovar Pfliegman with the history of his ancestral Hungarian people. Rovar is an outcast living just outside a small town in South Carolina. He sells meat (his people are butchers) from an abandoned school bus which doubles as his home. He develops a relationship of sorts with Dr. Monica, a pediatrician who is willing to explore Rovar’s various ailments. These include some fascinating dermatological symptoms. The history of his people includes generations of failure, remarkable feats of magical proportions, and some spectacular liaisons.
In some ways, “The Convalescent” has much in common with other novels of outcasts, such as “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. I loved that book when I read it years ago. I confess that I respond to these characters with a little impatience. On the one hand, they’re often funny in the sense of how someone quite outside the mainstream interacts with “regular” people. On the other hand, their continued isolation is sad–and I realize that I want them to Get Better, whatever that means. In this case, I didn’t sense my interest in Rovar growing once he was introduced. Sometimes a book like this just asks the reader to suspend expectations and enjoy the ride.
Why is this on the Notable Books list? It’s creative. Anthony uses words well. She seemed to have a great time creating Rovar and placing him in remarkable situations.
I’ll probably recommend this to only a few people. Although it isn’t for the mass of readers who expect a novel with a linear plot from introduction to conflict to resolution, it IS for those who prefer to have it all turned upside down from time to time.