Both literary and lurid, Murr’s third novel (The Genius of the Sea, 2003 etc.) uses the perspective of an alienated soul to examine a Missouri community in the 1950s stewing in a broth of violence, sexuality, bigotry and secrets.
London-born, U.S.-based Murr stirs many extreme ingredients into the pot. He tells a tale of seething emotions, elegantly-phrased yet feverish, that’s surely destined to erupt in dramatic fashion. The opening serves as a prologue, in which Gerard Travers leaves his illegitimate Indian son Rajiv with his brother Haig in post-World War II London. Rajiv is smart, a talented mimic and a misfit who will be passed on to the third Travers brother Olly, cohabiting with Ruth, a romance writer in Pisgah, Mo.—except that by the time Raj arrives, Olly is dead. But Ruth befriends the boy anyway, as do the local children: Annie, whose Italian father runs the local store and might have murdered a mentally-challenged boy named Roh; fragile Lewis, Roh’s brother, who has become convinced—after two years in a mental hospital—that he killed Roh himself; Norah, who is attracted to Raj although he is more attracted to Annie; and creepy Alvin, who thinks mostly about sex, death and wounded animals. The parents and siblings of this group line up on either side of an extreme gender divide: Many of the men are brutish and vile (like Norah’s cruelly voyeuristic father) and the women bovine, lonely or borderline insane. Ruth asks repeatedly: “Is there a single good man in the world…?” and the answer, when it eventually comes—after many, many episodes of depravity and tragedy, and considerably less innocence and hope—is a distinct Maybe.
Murr’s impressive literary abilities are applied to a gargantuan gothic panoramic spotlit with emotional insight.