In Rouse’s debut novel, a Peace Corps volunteer, expelled from his position in Peru in the 1970s, revisits the country 22 years later in a personal tale of closure.
Crushed by a failed marriage and a lost job promotion and still haunted by feelings of failure over the bar fight that got him sent home, Joe Petrini receives an invitation to a reunion of his Peace Corps training group. On reconnecting with his old colleagues, he realizes that he’s neither as hated nor as forgotten as he’d thought. A news story about a frozen Incan princess found on top of a mountain near where he was stationed is the final impetus to take the pilgrimage to revisit old friends and places. But when he arrives, he discovers that his closest friend from that period, Lucho Ramos, has been killed in a car accident, and that Lucho’s widow, Maria Luz, with whom Joe had been infatuated, thinks his death may actually have been politically motivated. Although Rouse tries to add spin here with a hostage crisis, the predictable results of the characters’ investigation of Lucho’s death frustrate the novel’s ambitions as a political thriller or police procedural. But there’s a lot that’s wonderful—the authentic way the old friends interact, as well as Joe’s reengagement with the land, and a piece of his own heart, after attempting to suppress those connections for decades. What works in this story are the reminiscences and the sharing of the simple trajectories of the lives of individuals, coming back together for a long time, with characters that are warm and real and wise.
Lacks convergence but allows the humanness of its characters to shine.