CALLED OUT by A.G. Mojtabai


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When a passenger jet crashes near the desolate Texas town of Bounds, tragedy links the lives of victims and townspeople, forcing the citizens of an insular community to confront a world on which most turned their backs long ago. An unnamed, out-of-town newspaper reporter pinpoints the novel's narrative technique while musing on the unreliability of conflicting eyewitness accounts of the crash: ""That's how it always is with one event seen through different windows."" The windows Mojtabai (Ordinary Time, 1989, etc.) constructs are monologues through which three main witnesses tell their stories in alternating chapters, interrupted occasionally by minor characters. After the reporter, the two other main witnesses are Father Mark, the town's Catholic priest, and Glenna Wooten, the town's postmaster. Their folksy, colloquial speech, meant to be both poetic and sensible, is what we expect from these familiar salt-of-the-earth types (hardy, defiant, proud of their simplicity and bedrock values), and it contributes greatly to the novel's tensionless, conversational feel and to the blurry uniformity of the characters. From the moment the plane crashes, the focus is on the townspeople; the victims -- initially, gory corpses and the ghostly walking wounded; later, the survivors and relatives of those who died -- seem curiously incidental. The plot's only conflict develops late: To accommodate the flood of survivors and relatives drawn to the crash site, Father Mark keeps the church open night and day. Members of the parish council, upset by the increased cost of utilities, challenge the priest by asking, ""Whose church is this, anyway?"" The question we are meant to ponder is whether a brotherhood of man unites us, whether some larger human connection makes these outsiders neighbors rather than strangers. Mojtabai's fragmented narrative offers no definitive answers, but her writing is occasionally powerful in the dead-on rightness of isolated images and in its evocation of the fascination catastrophe holds.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday