On an unnamed island, a decade after the fall of a brutal dictator, a woman suspects that a prominent senator she knows from her past—a progressive star, a media darling—is guilty of his own private violence.
“Precisely a week after the death of Maria P. was declared an accident,” begins Novey’s (Ways to Disappear, 2016) sophomore novel, “a woman reached into her tote bag and found a sweater inside that didn’t belong to her.” The woman is Lena, a 30-something college instructor. The sweater bears an eerie resemblance to a sweater she used to wear, back when she too was a student activist, just like Maria P. before she was “accidentally” run over by a bus. Lena, though, is convinced Maria P. was murdered: She was pushed, Lena believes, by a hotshot senator named Victor, light of the nation’s Truth and Justice Party. Lena has some experience with this. She was once in the thrall of Victor, too. Meanwhile, in a bed elsewhere on the island, Victor has come up with a plan to ward off questions: Get married. And so he proposes to the well-connected woman beside him, who lovingly accepts. The first half of the book has the propulsion of a thriller, a whirlwind of characters and perspectives. There is Lena’s friend Olga, a victim of the regime who now runs a books-and-marijuana shop. There is Freddy, Victor’s gay playwright brother, who has his own suspicions. There is Oscar, a northern tourist bearing baked goods. And then, of course, there’s Lena, haunted by Maria P. and the years she spent in silence. What follows is a tangled web of loss and regret and—perhaps—something like redemption. It's not a particularly subtle book—after the initial setup, it unfurls more or less how you’d expect it to—but Novey’s writing is so singularly vibrant it hardly matters.
Dreamy and jarring and exceedingly topical.