A year after 9/11, agitation and activism take center stage in Southern California in Lefer's latest novel (The Fiery Alphabet, 2013, etc.).
When a jittery security guard blows off her ear in a health-food store, Rae receives an auricular prosthesis, pays off her debts from her settlement, and decides to take a year off from teaching high school English to become a research volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo. In this conversational novel, Rae often addresses the reader directly: “I’m throwing a lot at you all at once.” And she does: Rae, alongside her best friend, Jennie Kim, and the members of the street activist troupe known as the Gorilla Theater, protests everything from the treatment of baboons at the zoo to the war in Iraq to the requirement that Iranian-born men in the U.S. register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Rae admits: “We were fighting on too many fronts.” But Lefer never divulges the source or sources behind Rae’s fervent and frequent outrage. It's only when Rae contemplates her failed marriage to her alcoholic husband that the author offers a poignant, more complex understanding of her character. “Toward the end and in the aftermath of my marriage, see, when you love someone who’s a drunk, all kinds of things happen to your life. It goes beyond the ravages of the disease, beyond the grief and shame over the terrible thing he’s done—which you surely feel more keenly than he does….There’s the hurt and helplessness you feel all the time.” Glimpses of Rae’s inner turmoil, though sporadic, evince a far more compelling storyline than her quest to solve the problems of the world.
A sometimes-tedious catalog of sociopolitical grievances.