Devoted brothers, living a world apart, are enmeshed in a mystery.
Making a poised, graceful literary debut, Fitzpatrick follows the aspirations and anguish of Ilya, a 15-year-old Russian exchange student who arrives in the U.S. burdened by worry about his older brother. After confessing to the murders of three young women, Vladimir is in prison, awaiting a harsh sentence; but Ilya is certain of his innocence, and although he is thousands of miles away, he sets out to prove it. Moving between the small town of Leffie, Louisiana, where Ilya is housed with the Masons, a pious, middle-class host family, and Berlozhniki, a former mining town where he shared a tiny apartment with his mother, grandmother, and brother, Fitzpatrick underscores the contrast between Western excess and Russian impoverishment. On the road to Leffie, Ilya whizzes past grocery stores—“the shelves were completely full,” he notices with amazement—video stores, pizza places, gas stations, and a huge building shaped like a pyramid with two glass walls: the evangelical Star Pilgrim Church, where the Masons worship every Sunday. Their house is sprawling, with foyers, a den, multiple bathrooms and bedrooms, and a heated outdoor pool that, Ilya is shocked to see, can be illuminated for night swimming. Of the Masons’ three daughters, only the sardonic Sadie, the eldest, seems to understand Ilya; as he soon discovers, she, like him, harbors secrets. He should not have been surprised, he reflects, “but his own secrets had made him myopic, made him forget that the world, even America, was a tangle of lives, all twisted and bent.” Ilya confides in Sadie, sharing his worries: Vladimir’s life, he reveals, is inexorably tangled. Unlike Ilya, who excelled academically, Vladimir struggled; he became a petty thief and drug addict, never keeping his promises that he would turn himself around. Beset with guilt, hoping desperately to save Vladimir, Ilya searches the internet for clues to the murders, and, with Sadie’s help, he discovers the corruption and betrayal that landed Vladimir in prison.
An absorbing tale imparted with tenderness and compassion.