An explosive narrative employs a Florida strip club as a tinderbox of tensions on the weekend before 9/11.
In similar fashion to his previous bestseller (House of Sand and Fog, 1999), Dubus shows a profound empathy as he gets inside the heads of a number of characters, with coincidence, chance and a clash of cultures building to a shattering climax. Through quick-cutting chapters (few longer than ten pages, many as short as one or two), he propels the action while providing the back stories that have brought these characters together for a night that will change their lives. April is an uncommonly sober-minded stripper and single mother who saves all her earnings to secure a better future for herself and her three-year-old daughter Franny. Jean is April’s landlady and Franny’s babysitter, a widow who shares her house more for the company than the extra income. She is also prone to panic attacks and may be a hypochondriac, an alcoholic or both. On the night in question, Jean is hospitalized and can’t watch Franny. April reluctantly takes Franny to work, leaving her in a closed office while she goes to dance for customers. One of the clients is Bassam, a Muslim who pays extravagantly. Bassam berates April as immoral even as he lusts after her, and he keeps her from checking on her daughter. (Later his subplot has the most trouble meshing with the others.) Another customer is AJ, separated from the wife he has beaten and the son he loves, and now bounced from the club for getting too physical with one of the dancers. As their fates become inexorably intertwined, Dubus does a masterful job of allowing the reader to understand, if not forgive, why each character does what he or she does. In the process, he explores intricacies of faith and fate, love in its many dimensions (from maternal to sexual), the transactions through which men and women exert power over each other and the culture that shapes the characters and destinies of these individuals.
Difficult to put down, impossible to forget.