National Book Award—winning novelist Shacochis (The Immaculate Invasion, 1999, etc.) makes a long-awaited—indeed, much-anticipated—return to fiction with this stunning novel of love, innocence and honor lost.
The wait was worth it, for Shacochis has delivered a work that in its discomfiting moral complexity and philosophical density belongs alongside Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. Tom Harrington is a humanitarian lawyer whose path takes him into difficult country: Haiti in the wake of dictatorship and storm, for one. He is unsettled and lonely, even as his stateside wife is one of those blessedly ignorant Americans who “pray for the deafness that comes with a comfortable life”—a comfortable life that would be much more attainable were Tom someone who cared about money. He is not saintly, though. Into his orbit has come a fetching, utterly mysterious journalist whom Tom has met more than once along the trail of good deeds done by sometimes not so good people. Her murder sends him reeling into a long, arcing story of discovery that becomes ever more tangled as Shacochis spins it, taking it across decades and oceans. Among the players are a tough-as-nails Delta Force combatant who surely knows that he’s being played as a pawn by the likes of an unlikable senior spook who lives for opera, cocktails and deception; even so, the soldier takes pride in his role in what he calls “Jihadi pest control,” just as the spy takes pride in what he did in all those dark corners during the Cold War. These characters are bound to one another, and to Jackie, by blood or elective affinities. Either way, Shacochis would seem to suggest, their real business is to hide themselves from the world, while the business of the world is to help them disguise their subterfuge. Everything in the landscape is secret and forbidden, potentially fatal, doomed to fail—and yet everyone persists, presses on, with what they believe their missions to be. Shacochis is a master of characterization; his story, though very long, moves like a fast-flowing river, and it is memorably, smartly written: “ ‘Cleopatra spoke nine languages,’ Jackie informed him with a distinctly peevish rise to her voice for what she obviously considered a set series of infinitely tiresome challenges to the perception of her specialness, the unfair excesses of her drop-dead good looks or intellect or courage or God knows, her very birth, as if she had somehow stolen those laudable parts of herself from someone else, an imaginary deprived person.”
An often depressing, cautionary and thoroughly excellent tale of the excesses of empire, ambition and the too easily fragmented human soul.