Two men have their certainties upended in this story’s parallel plots.
In Warren’s debut novel, Cary University English professor Alan Fernwood feels fairly content with his life. His wife is out of town, his children are grown and out of the house, he teaches an intellectually lively class on Shakespeare’s plays, and he’s steadily working on his latest book of academic literary criticism, Shakespeare’s Journey. Likewise, Cary City Herald newspaper reporter Elvin Alvarez is moderately happy turning out unobjectionable copy reporting on discoveries in science, technology, and medicine. But in short order both men are startled out of their complacency. While seeing his wife off for her long trip to her parents’ home in Taipei, Taiwan, Fernwood buys a book at the airport on the Shakespeare Authorship Question. He’s smugly skeptical at first (“he felt angry and impatient that anyone would waste time on such nonsense”), but the more he reads about the subject, the more he begins to doubt his former certainties about whether or not the Man from Stratford actually wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. Even while he continues to teach his class with undiminished skill (the long stretches narrating these class sessions are genuinely absorbing as general-interest probes into the plays), his certainty about the standard Shakespeare story starts to rapidly erode. Meanwhile, in an effort to make his columns more controversial, Alvarez digs into the “settled science” regarding humanity-propelled global warming. He begins his investigations sure about the oft-cited scientific consensus on the subject, but “the more he learned, the harder it was to see how human-produced carbon dioxide could have much effect on the planet’s climate.” Warren peppers these ideological themes with some human conflict in his cerebral and meaty tale (Alvarez is in love with Fernwood’s daughter, and Fernwood himself is moonstruck by one of his young students). But the book’s main interest (only slightly weakened by its split focus) is its energetic dissection of the science of global warming and particularly the details of the Shakespearean authorship debate. (At one point, Fernwood discovers that Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. never thought Shakespeare wrote the works “because no evidence exists that he had ever visited Italy, where a dozen of the plays are set.”) Even readers familiar with the controversy will learn something in this intellectually fast-paced telling.
An assured and surprisingly gripping tale about the perils of ideological conformity.