An American man’s existential journey is aided by various women in Baker’s cerebral fourth novel (Dominion, 2006, etc.).
Here’s what we know about narrator Harper Roland: he's single; 37; only living relative is an aunt; lives in downtown Manhattan; burned out after seven years as a war correspondent for a small magazine. These details are thrown out casually, along with a hint that Harper is black. What matters is his emotional state, which is in flux. He’s been dating Devi, an emergency room doctor, but wants something more intense than what she’s willing to offer. He quits the magazine and flies to Paris to work on a screenplay for Davidson, an egotistical director of art-house movies. Intensity is waiting for him in the form of Genevieve, a bohemian beauty who declares, operatically, “you are my man.” They live at fever pitch until, in another bolt from the blue, Genevieve has a breakdown and sets him free. Harper, who identifies with Oedipus, endures the reversal of fortune even though he’s afflicted by “a vast, cosmic emptiness.” This is assuaged by a trip to Rio to join a friend’s bachelor party. In a brothel, he's charmed by a high-minded whore who ruminates on the soul/body connection before pleasuring Harper with the blend, but it’s only further south, down Patagonia way, that he overcomes his dread of becoming another lost soul when he meets fellow American Sylvie, a constitutional lawyer, and feels “a great uprush of kindredness.” Journey’s end? Not quite. Baker tacks on a final section set in Africa. Harper is on safari with Sylvie when they’re abducted by murderous, sociopathic guerrillas. What follows is standard-issue escape and pursuit, but the soul mates still find time to extol the cosmic energy of their first meeting.
A muddled spiritual inventory that could have used a lighter touch.