A young man who survived a tragic accident becomes part of a mysterious international operation where violence and subterfuge abound.
The narrator of this tautly plotted novel doesn’t reveal his name, but he travels through a world in which names, aliases, and hidden identities all have tremendous power. Initially, the structure of the book seems fragmented, but slowly different threads coalesce, revealing a globe-trotting narrative in which betrayals, mysteries, and revelations are interwoven. After the death of his family, the narrator abandons his plans for college and instead opts to be adrift in the world, which eventually leads him to a homeless shelter in Seattle, where he comes into the orbit of a mysterious man named Ray-Ray. From there, he embarks on a career doing a series of nebulous deliveries and drop-offs, which become increasingly global in scope even as the level of danger for these missions increases. That a copy of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock plays a major role in the plot—along with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon—suggests that Light (Blood Stories, 2015, etc.) is quite aware of his literary forebears. That counts for a lot, as does the way the various plot threads converge organically. The way the novel encompasses both a grittily realistic tale of coming of age in the Midwest and a globe-trotting espionage thriller is occasionally jarring, but the invocation of unexpected real-world events—a reference to 1998’s Operation Desert Fox factors into one character’s history—helps create a narrative equilibrium. And when one character opines that the nominally fast-paced life he lives “used to be thrilling. Now, it’s tedious,” it’s a fine way of finding balance between the two.
This sinuous narrative works neatly, both as a gripping novel and a solid meditation on identity.