A romance spanning centuries and continents finds a grotesque narrator redeemed by the love of a woman who claims they first met seven centuries earlier, in this deliriously ambitious debut novel.
It’s a credit to the craftsmanship of the Canadian writer that this spellbinding narrative seems considerably less ludicrous when reading it than when summarizing it. A porn actor-turned-producer begins his reckless drive on Good Friday (spiritual alert!) after a cocaine binge that he is attempting to temper with a bottle of bourbon. He starts to hallucinate about burning arrows (or are they real?), and as he tries to avoid them he crashes his car, which is set ablaze and leaves him disfigured (casualties include the member that served him so well in his prolific film career). An extended stay in a burn ward gives him plenty of time to come to grips with his fate and to share his back story: a Dickensian tale of an orphan shunted from guardian to guardian (the most unsuitable of these is a pair of meth addicts). Then he meets a sculptress named Marianne Engel, who shares with him his back, back story, one that encompasses ninth-century Iceland, a 14th-century German monastery and other tales in other lands with parallels to the relationship she and the narrator begin to forge. Marianne is also hospitalized, in the mental ward, yet somehow gains access through the usually tight security of the burn ward and is discharged to take care of the narrator when he’s ready to leave. Dante’s Inferno figures prominently in the plot, as do orphans, arrows and Good Fridays. Ultimately, the narrator who initially dismissed Heaven as “an idea constructed by man to help him cope with the fact that life on earth is both brutally short and, paradoxically, far too long” comes to share his companion’s conviction that “anyone who believes that she can explain the Eternal Godhead has never truly experienced it.”
What goes around comes around, to the enchantment of the reader willing to suspend all notions of plausibility.