Skibsrud’s elegant, intricately woven second novel (The Sentimentalists, 2011) is inspired by Messiaen’s experimental composition Quartet for the End of Time, a musical piece that sought to escape the restrictions of conventional measurements of time.
Attempting to mimic Messiaen's structure, Skibsrud jumps into different perspectives and time periods to trace the repercussions of a single event. The book begins in 1932 with a group of down-on-their-luck World War I veterans camped out in Washington, D.C., to demand the immediate cash fulfillment of their bonus certificates, which weren't due to mature until 1945. A young, idealistic judge’s son, Alden Kelly, finds himself sympathetic to the cause of the Bonus Army though his father vehemently disagrees with him. He falls under the sway of a Communist leader who asks him to carry an explosive device for a shadowy purpose, but before the bomb can reach its intended destination, Alden gets caught in the swell of a riot and has his bag confiscated by the police. In the ensuing investigation, the judge arranges for Alden’s sister, Sutton, to point the finger at Kansas veteran Arthur Sinclair, who disappears after being taken into custody. The repercussions of this action ripple through the rest of the book as Skibsrud traces the lives of Sutton, Alden, and Arthur’s son, Douglas, through the Great Depression, World War II and beyond, long after the bonus tickets are paid out thanks to Congressional approval.
Though Skibsrud’s pacing sometimes bogs down, her unique voice and eye for historical detail lend the book a satisfying richness.