This debut fiction from psychiatrist Kramer (Listening to Prozac, 1993; Should You Leave?, 1997) is a love letter a fond father writes to his long-estranged son while he waits for the FBI to gather evidence that will convict him of a series of terrorist bombings.
It’s the father, not the son, who’s the terrorist, and that’s the first of many welcome novelties here. Chip Samuels is the most unlikely bomber in the world. A community-college professor with no pronounced radical leanings or history beyond what you’d expect from any member of his generation, he’s been beguiled into his new vocation by his old college friend Sukey Kuykendahl, whose fortuitous discovery of a large cache of explosives has persuaded her that somebody ought to use them to make a statement. In a long, comfortably rambling series of reminiscences and commentaries that move from his broken marriage to his sweetheart Anais—a potter turned manufacturer of the famous AnaisWare—to his realization that contemporary American culture is based on the creation not of capital but of spectacle, Chip, “the revolutionary who reads directions,” makes his passive-aggressive acquiescence in Sukey’s plan to disable overscaled beachfront properties in the Cape Cod town of Sesuit seem not only logical but inevitable. As this unlikely half of the Free the Beaches Movement dilates on the aesthetics of unauthorized demolition, and his need to use his attacks to construct a genuinely postmodern narrative, Chip is moving from his self-willed obscurity to a celebrity that will change his life in ways far more uncontrollable than a dozen mere explosions.
The voice—measured, pensive, soft-spoken, self-deprecating, lightly ironic, quizzically humane—recalls the early Walker Percy. Just think what Binx Bolling might have made of himself if he’d quit going to the movies and started blowing up his neighbors’ houses instead.