A New Hampshire high school teacher, working a second job as a Drug Enforcement Agency linguist, feels disconnected from his family in Caplan’s (The Saints of David, 2017, etc.) novel.
Gillum Kaosky, who teaches Spanish during the school year, has no plans for recreation during the summer. Instead, he’s lined up a job with the DEA translating tapped phone calls between Dominican drug-gang members. Kaosky lives with wife, Sibyl, and daughters, Hope and Gabriella; his son, Jonah, is away at Brown University. He has few acquaintances, and his students’ parents don’t seem to recognize him at school events such as Hope’s lacrosse game. He’s not popular at work, either; the school principal insinuates that he should go easier on a star athlete in his class. However, he feels most isolated within his own family. He doesn’t relate well to his daughters, and during one of Jonah’s visits, the family seems happier when Kaosky isn’t with them. But two events cause the protagonist to see an opportunity to reconnect and make his world “whole again.” Caplan establishes an unhurried pace for a story that focuses largely on Kaosky’s self-analysis. Though flawed, the protagonist is sympathetic as he struggles to overcome his faults and make others happy. The scenes of Kaosky translating drug gangs’ conversations don’t accelerate the plot, but there are notable parallels between the Milares family, whom Kaosky monitors, and his own kin. The story often highlights how he’s become an observer, rather than an active participant, in his own life. It’s a gloomy book, for the most part, but Caplan displays an ability to turn somber moments into something heartfelt.
An often bleak tale with an intriguing, introspective protagonist.