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by Jonathan Dee

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-385-42595-3
Publisher: Doubleday

American Innocence revisited: a retiring adman's spiritual stock-taking acquires dramatic urgency when he learns that his suburban neighbor may be a war criminal. Gene Trowbridge is an advertising executive with a home on Long Island. The 64-year-old Gene is readying himself for retirement and adjustments in his long, loving marriage to wife Ellie when a reporter buttonholes him, asking questions about his reclusive neighbor Albert Ferdinand. His curiosity piqued, Gene befriends Ferdinand; pressed hard, Ferdinand concedes that he's the former Brazilian Army captain who (as the newspaper alleges) oversaw the torture of civilians in the 1960's. But Ferdinand insists that whatever wrong he did in the war against Communism is a private matter ``between me and my God''; his task now is preparing for death and (hopefully) divine acceptance. All this is taxing for Gene, a decent but ``morally undeveloped'' man without a compass in this world of men who torture, and die, for their beliefs. As the authorities and human-rights activists close in, Ferdinand appeals to his friend for help—but Gene finds himself paralyzed, unable to act. Gene works in a business where ``our allegiances are always for sale''; he lives in the reflected glory of a son who is a major-league baseball player; and the story begins on the Fourth of July. While Dee may be pushing Gene's quintessentially American situation too hard, this spellbinding second novel (The Lover of History, 1990) reads like anything but schematic. With a true novelist's flair, the author forestalls our rush to judgment by making the reporter obnoxious and Ferdinand a figure of dignified pathos. Dee's graceful assumption of an older man's voice, his mastery of an elegiac tone, is every bit as impressive as Ishiguro's achievement in The Remains of the Day.