The cataclysm at the root of Flanery’s (Absolution, 2012) second novel is an act of mob violence 100 years past.
Two men are lynched, one white, one black. The deed to the white man’s farm falls to the black man’s brother, Louise Washington’s ancestor. Louise was a teacher; her husband, Donald, farmed, but he was caught between high interest rates and low crop prices. Before he could recover, he died. Now, Louise, evicted by eminent domain, trespasses in her own home. Paul Krovik, an ambitious contractor, secured rights to build Dolores Woods, a McMansion development, on Louise’s land. Then the housing bubble burst, the development failed, and Paul was evicted from his model home while also losing his family. In this "dolorous forest of infinite sorrow," Paul lurks in his house’s secret basement shelter. From their lairs, these outliers watch Nathaniel and Julia and their boy, Copley, move into Krovik’s house. Julia is a research scientist. Nathaniel, reluctant to leave Boston, will be National Director of Offender Rehabilitation for EKK, once into security and incarceration management but now exerting massive influence in areas ranging from biotech to entertainment. Nathaniel and Julia are profession-centered and blind to reality, but Copley, "unfailingly polite, reserved, self-contained, all of his processes and emotions hidden," encounters Paul. No one believes Copley, but Paul, increasingly paranoid, soon surfaces to destroy more dreams than his own. In a literary effort far different from his accomplished debut, Flanery explores family and social mores, cataloging emotional damage tumbling from generation to generation, all woven into a metaphorical tale about the human cost of bubble economics, the undermining of personal freedoms in the name of homeland security and the ugly consequences of the privatization of public service. Characters and back stories are both authentic and chilling, as when EKK’s CEO declares "[p]rivate is now public, in the interests of security." In a novel both symbolic and philosophical, Flanery’s dark view of human ambition, weakness and complacency is both thoughtful and terrifying.
A haunting, layered allegory.