Things are never as they seem: not among the well-heeled of Manhattan and certainly not among the leave-me-alone downtrodden of rural Michigan.
Sandy Mulligan, a writer with a nagging Greek chorus of an agent always over his shoulder, has bailed from New York, marriage, the old life. One is tempted to read something of author Sorrentino (The Trance, 2005, etc.) into Sandy, long absent as he’s been from the scene, though Sandy takes things a step further, hiding himself away in a little Midwestern town near an Indian reservation and its obligatory casino. His agent protests, naturally (“They don’t have what you need to be human out there,” he moans), but Sandy is bent on what he deems “exile and cunning” all the same. Others have the same idea. In that little town, an Ojibway storyteller proves a fascinating diversion— but is he who he says he is? Why does a sexy investigative reporter make a practice of eluding ethnic definition, resisting being called Native, Hispanic, Filipina, or whatever other census category people try to pin her to? Why do all the principal employees of the casino have Italian names, and what the heck is a “transfer pricing manager”? In this welter, it’s clear that Sandy will never find time or peace to knuckle down to his overdue novel, but he’ll also rack up plenty of new stories to tell—many of them of an erotic bent. In the end, Sorrentino’s smartly conceived story is something of a thriller, though more Richard Russo than Robert Ludlum; it’s about ruses and masks and our desire to be something other than our imperfectible selves. There’s also plenty of subtext on the literary life, with publishers increasingly seeing books as inconvenient commodities and a culture constantly in search of some new zeitgeist definer—who almost certainly won’t be Sandy. “They won’t even be remembering your work,” his agent thunders. “They’ll be remembering fucking Ethan Hawke.” A fate worse than oblivion, that.
Thoughtful but full of action—and a pleasing entertainment, too.