One negative to sleeping in the buff is that if you’re ever to fall through your bedroom floor into some inter-dimensional quadrant of incalculable distortion, you’re going to have to deal with said predicament in the nude. There, it might be chilly, stormy, and there might be demons throwing arrows at your privates. It could get complex. Trumansburg writer Gordon Bonnet’s latest novel, Sephirot, starts its protagonist off squarely in said situation. Face to face with the naked truth (or untruth) the hero must muster the courage to move onward and forward (or backward) and find someway back home to his cozy confines. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s about to embark on a spiritual and metaphysical excursion through ten portals of mystical and hellish dimensions.
In Jewish mysticism, the Sephirot—meaning emanations—are the ten distinctions in Kabbalah, through which Ein Sof (The Infinite) manifests and showcases his unbounded patterns. Physically, it is represented as a complex geometric assemblage that correlates to the physical parameters, metaphysical attributes, and numeric aggregates associated with existence and non-existence. It’s a nexus of specific patterns and meanings that overall comprises a distinct whole (everything). Bonnet’s novel, while not openly engaged in any sort of dogmatic discussion of the Jewish Sephirot, does explore the terrain.
Bonnet’s story is about an ordinary dude, Duncan Kyle, who transverses through ten or so dimensional portals, and by and large grows wise, mystical, and courageous, through a paradigm of self-discovery. Think Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha meets Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, with Steven King’s The Gunslinger in the background; all this while sitting at temple.
At moments, Sephirot is mightily present: extreme, widening, sparkle-eyed, and wickedly engaging; other times distant, losing its footing and scrambling to keep up with its multifarious designs. The book starts and ends slowly, but shapes itself muscularly in the middle. “Netzach,” “Tiffret,” and “Gevurah,” the book’s fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters, is where Bonnet really makes things move: fusing swift stylistic arrangements that glisten and affirm individual thought-patterns in the multilayered story. This is the book’s apex, and most spirited sections—very much excellent reading—combing wit, philosophy, dazzling maneuvering, and deepening fantasy.
“Netzach” sees Kyle reach a dimension where formless abstract shapes try to trick him into believing he’s a true and eternal part of their non-world. The shapes ingest Kyle’s memories and form them together to mimic an alternative reality that clouds one’s deepest convictions. In the Jewish canon, Netzach is a sort of state of perpetuity: a quality intent on lasting forever. The subtle parallels between the novel and the mystical Jewish tree of life are discerning: placed intermittingly like colorful eggs on an Easter morning. “Gevurah” is the darkest and most violently morbid of all the realms Kyle visits. Here he encounters a sullen and hellish world where fire, horror, and brimstone reign. In the Jewish Sephirot, Netzach relates to the essence of judgment and limitation, the power of astonishment, and the depth of fire. You can tell Bonnet’s is engaged in this section; the visionary and lucid Netzach he creates is perhaps the book’s finest moment.
At some particular dimensional interval though, both Kyle and Bonnet seem fatigued. The last few chapters of Sephirot seem to envelop themselves into a sort of standard cliché. Although there’s occasional bite, the collective characters, imagery, and metaphorical passion of the last few chapters seem slightly tedious. That is, until we reach the absolute last chapter, “Keter”, where the interstellar drive and radiant formation that brightens the best of Sephirot returns tenfold. Like the Tao Te Ching layering in the fifth dimension, “Keter” makes sure you leave the elaborate realm of Sephirot in awe: gutted, spring-boarded, perplexed, and thoroughly engaged.
There’s a lot to ponder in Sephirot, particularly the rich and varied symbolism that parallels the Jewish emanations of the same name. A complex weave of outwardly inner-manifestations, Bonnet’s book offers a glimpse into the perplexity of life. If anything, it had me dually investing time into the Jewish Sephirot. And there’s nothing better than a book that opens a portal to another dimension. •