The stories of three protagonists are told successively, then intertwined, in the Iranian-American author’s third novel (The Bathhouse, 2001, etc.).
In Houston in the mid-1980s, former philosophy professor and AIDS patient Madison Kirby broods over a history of emotional distance inherited from his aloof father, and seeks a sustaining connection with his new neighbor, Iranian immigrant single mother Roya Saraabi. Madison’s increasingly angry fulminations and fantasies also involve People’s Aid Center social worker Ric Cardinal and Madison’s doctor Marlina Haas. Following Madison’s story, Roya tells hers—of political persecution, imprisonment and rape; the deaths of her husband and family members; and flight throughout the Middle East and India with her daughter Tala, to Houston, where her intellectual capacities are wasted on menial jobs, and her rejection of Madison’s attentions makes him her sworn enemy. Finally, we get Ric Cardinal’s history of rootlessness, neglect and abandonment by parents and spouses, and a commitment to political engagement and humanitarian aid that takes him into dangerous territories, then a relationship with Roya that may alleviate Ric’s deepest sorrow: the loss of his son Sam to depression and drug addiction. Each story resonates throughout the other two, unfortunately failing to avoid numerous repetitions—and falling flat in a contrived dénouement that ironically fulfills Madison’s “mad” dream of self-assertion through vengeance. There’s the germ of a good idea in the book: the connection between familial instability and global conflict and catastrophe. But the labored narrative obscures the larger theme.
Earnest to a fault, but a step backward in the gifted Moshiri’s still promising career.