A formally and thematically ambitious debut novel that aims very high and rarely falls short.
In his well-received memoir (A Preparation for Death, 2010), the author writes of his frustrations with a series of previous novels that were never published. Maybe those were learning experiences, for this shows both a mastery of literary technique and a refusal to see such technique as an end in itself, as it engages the world on a number of levels—political, moral, aesthetic (its ruminations on art are where it goes a little over the top), as well as meditations on place, time and memory. Though all these concerns make the novel sound overstuffed, the elliptical concision and narrative momentum keep the prose from ever becoming polemic. Following the lead of James Joyce, Don DeLillo and others, the novel takes place over the course of a single day in the life of its protagonist as he makes his way across an unnamed European city in search of the titular apartment. Christmas approaches, but the 41-year-old American seems immune to the holiday spirit and to much in the way of human warmth, as he obliquely recounts the life of dislocation that has brought him to this place that might serve as a final destination but never home. Not that he ever felt at home in his native country—“I was born to hate the place I come from”—and certainly not in his tours of Iraq, in the military and then as a civilian mercenary, selling intelligence for blood money. A woman he has recently met serves as his guide through her city and helps him find the apartment, though the depth of their relationship appears unclear to one or both of them. Not nearly as clear as the view as he stares into the abyss: “I experienced a sensation of falling into nothingness. It seemed not at all like a spontaneous sensation but like a truth that had come a very long way, looking for me, knowing all I would think before I thought it, and shot me out of the sky.”
A very smart novel that recognizes the limits of intelligence and the distortions of memory.