By Joshua Cohen
240 pp. Random House. $26.
Late in Joshua Cohen’s new novel, “Moving Kings,” I noted a word, “precariat,” which, though mentioned only in passing, seemed to offer an interpretive key. It’s a sociology term derived from “precarious” that describes the growing class of people — “the 99 percent” invoked by the Occupy movement — left behind by the rise of global capitalism. “Precariat” would certainly apply to two of Cohen’s main characters, Yoav Matzav and Uri Dugri, Israeli Defense Forces veterans who have immigrated to New York City, where they’ve taken off-the-books jobs at King’s Moving, a company that enlists them in evicting delinquent tenants and homeowners who’ve defaulted on their mortgages. The term would also apply to Imamu Nabi, born Avery Luter, a Vietnam veteran and drug addict who is one of those in default.
Israeli veterans, an African-American veteran who has (at least in name) converted to Islam: As a premise for a novel, this conflict between evictors and evicted seems built for thematic complexity, as it brings to mind gentrification, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and much more. Indeed, the suspense in “Moving Kings” derives not from traditional narrative momentum but from our wondering how Cohen is going to take these dangerous ingredients and make meaning out of them. What is he going to say about Jews evicting blacks, for example, or, to drill down further, about Israeli Jews evicting African-American Muslims, or veterans evicting veterans? What will come out of the vexed dynamic between Yoav, Uri and Imamu? Something to do with the word “precariat,” I thought, when I came across that striking word 170 pages in.
I was grasping, in other words. In its initial long section, the novel slogs through the story of Yoav’s middle-aged cousin, David King, the “Moving…