When the going gets tough, the tough get nosy. And so, in this well-realized novel by veteran writer Raban (Passage to Juneau, 1999, etc.), does everyone else.
The time is the very near future, a time when the Department of Homeland Security runs constant anti-terrorist drills around the country and everyone is suspect. Tad Zachary is one of the lucky folk for whom the new tenor of the times has been a gold mine: He gets $1,000 a day to act in DHS videos when “even jobs in retail, the usual standby of the out-of-work actor, were in short supply.” Tad’s friend Lucy Bengstrom is a magazine writer who hasn’t had much meaty work since the downturn, Seattle appearing on East Coast editors’ mental maps only from time to time, barring the occasional serial murder; she’s been supporting her young daughter, a bright girl with a fascination with Anne Frank, by writing travel pieces. Then the phone rings, and Lucy gets an assignment to profile an elusive retired professor, August Vanags, whose new WWII-era memoir has been making quite a noise. Lucy, professionally disposed to mistrust and question, has fallen under the book’s spell: “It was as if Huck Finn had been set adrift in this refugee world of trains, and labor camps, and trudging columns of shocked, exhausted men and women trying to escape.” It’s fascinating, but is it true? Lucy sets to checking out Vanags’s story; her daughter gets some schooling in the world of data-mining courtesy of a whiz hacker; Lucy’s landlord refines his dossier on a woman he considers to be good mate material; and the plot thickens. Privacy? There’s no such thing anymore. Lucy laments having to poke into people’s lives, and Tad brightly responds, “Everybody’s trying to spy on everybody else. At least you know you’re a spook, which is something. Most people are in denial.” Indeed, and most of the spying is of an extremely trivial nature, even as real, and dangerous, events are building.
A coolly delivered portrait of the Wired Age, when paranoia rules and truth is at a premium.