This novel, a poignant mediation on the emotional wages of war, captures the suffering felt by veterans and the people who love them.
Set in the early 1990s, Eliot’s (Tanaki on the Shore,2006) deftly told novel is haunted by war and geopolitical tumult. The Berlin Wall crumbled, the Cold War recently sped to a sudden conclusion, Nelson Mandela has finally tasted freedom and the U.S. military is poised for a massive invasion of Iraq. Marjorie Llewellyn, a therapist at the Capitol Center for Psychic Wellness in Washington, D.C., spends her life in the thicket of trauma war has produced. She often counsels Vietnam veterans roiled by unpleasant remembrances of combat. She also suffers from the effects war has had and may still have on her life: Her father, a veteran, died prematurely, and it looks increasingly likely her younger brother will be deployed for Desert Shield. Everything changes when she’s assigned a new patient at the clinic, Gary Devers, who frustrates her with his cryptic “intellectualizing of trauma” but also compels her to reflect more profoundly on her own nagging sense of loss. “When Gary was here it began to make sense,” she says. “I could feel that stone of my father glowing warmer when we were together. It was as if there were a stone in him that glowed with a similar warmth, and the two stones were happy when they were together.” The entire narrative is couched within a meta-narrative of the book’s publication: Marjorie’s son, Arturo, sends the 15-year-old manuscript to a literary agent who immediately senses its artistic merit. The prose often strikes a poetic note, highlighting an intelligent treatment of grief. Marjorie eventually falls for Gary—an illicit romance that leads to her departure from the clinic—and their relationship flowers from a professional one into an intensely personal connection. The intriguingly complex plot includes tangled mysteries as subplots: a former patient of Marjorie’s goes missing, and Gary’s status as a war veteran comes under suspicion.
A touching, philosophical meditation on the psychological fallout from war.