Hospital (North of Nowhere, South of Loss, 2004, etc.) turns the mythical tables, sending a modern-day Eurydice to hellish secret interrogation facilities in search of her Orpheus, a musician suspected of terrorist ties.
Leela, a graduate student at MIT, falls in love with Mishka, the grandson of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who grew up in remote rural Australia. He’s in Boston studying music, but he has an odd habit of disappearing after each of the terrorist bombings that now regularly disrupt the city. (The unspecified time seems to be the very near future.) After an explosion on the Red Line, Leela is kidnapped and taken to an “interview room,” where her chief interrogator is Cobb, a boy she grew up with in Promised Land, S.C. The tortured son of an abusive, alcoholic Vietnam vet, Cobb was as much of a misfit as Leela, the openly promiscuous daughter of a preacher. But he despised her liberal views and was insanely jealous of her lovers. In a truly creepy interrogation scene, Cobb tells Leela that Mishka’s real name is Mikael Abukir and he’s been seen visiting a Boston mosque with the man who blew himself up on the Red Line; Cobb also shows her photos that make it clear he’s been following her every move. The stage seems set for a horrific tale of vengeance and destruction, especially as readers learn with Mishka that the father he never knew (a Lebanese student in Sydney who supposedly died after he got Mishka’s mother pregnant) is now a notorious Muslim fundamentalist. Has gentle Mishka been lured into terrorism as a means of connecting with his father? To what gruesome ends will Cobb’s rage take him? The answers turn out to be more optimistic than the grim opening chapters indicate.
The themes of redemption and reconciliation are not quite as electrifying as the author’s scary portrait of an America deformed by fear and anger, but a novel that grapples so thoughtfully with such resonant issues demands close attention.