In 1969, Saul, a young student and aspiring poet, convinces his family to allow him to attend college in New York City - yet another place he finds he does not quite fit in. He seeks out an unknown relative living in the city, his eccentric Aunt Keni. Their walks through the streets of the city open his eyes to sights and smells he never could have imagined, images from the past. On her deathbed, his aunt gives him a book thinking perhaps someday he will finish the story her long-dead husband, Nathan Hart, had begun.
During the early 1900s, young Jewish immigrant Nathan happens upon a job as a proofreader for the Jewish Daily Forward after stumbling through other, less enticing jobs. He leads a relatively solitary and lonely life until he meets a beautiful redhead in a shop one day. He is haunted by her and desperate to see her again. It is as if he suddenly has found his muse and begins obsessively writing a story about a fallen angel. It is this story that mesmerizes and draws in the beautiful Keni, bringing her unexpectedly to Nathanís doorstep one evening.
The third narrative is told from the perspective of Mocky, the fallen angel. Mischievous practically from birth, Mocky has always wanted something other than what he was granted in life as the Angel of Forgetfulness. It was while performing his duties one day that he met Hannah, the woman for whom he would take his fall from Heaven. When his wife is murdered brutally by the Cossacks and Tartars, Mocky flees earth with his son, Nachman.
Nachman follows his restless father back to earth only to find himself enamored of a beautiful actress named Sophie the Red. His own life from that point on is filled with the same obsession and torment that haunts the lives of Stern's other main characters.
What follows is the story of the four men as they make their way in the world, falling in love and searching for something outside of and beyond themselves. The Angel of Forgetfulness touches on an age-old struggle, that of spiritual versus mortal needs.
Although the story lags on occasion, it is overall a compelling one. The colorful cast of characters, the look at life in New York City during the early 1900s, the gangsters and theater life, the strong-minded and independent women, the misfits of the Arkansas commune, the theater troupe in England and the tourist guide in Prague make the novel all the more appealing.
Almost poetic in his prose, at times funny and at other times dark, author Steve Stern presents three distinct yet interconnected stories that are flecked with magical realism and a touch of the philosophical. Although they share commonalities in themes and experiences, the three different narratives never quite gel completely. Despite that, The Angel of Forgetfulness does not leave the reader wanting.