Beckley’s debut details the life of architect Robert A. Michael, who disappeared and possibly committed suicide. Michael embodied the ego and genius of modernism, but also its uncompromising excess. With an almost megalomaniacal personality, he ordered his life to his own specifications; when the world didn’t respond with recognition, he left it. Though his lavish lifestyle included fancy cars and incredibly expensive originals of famous furniture designs from Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, his personal life was fraught with issues: In her chapter, his first wife reveals multiple affairs; his daughter details the demands he required for the house he designed for her; he seduced his publicist; he invited a colleague to an interview seemingly in order to use her skin color to secure a project. Michael’s designs, though beautiful, required huge expense—and huge sacrifice. His love of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and its protagonist, Howard Roark, ended in disappointment as he slowly realized that the age of the heroic architects he idolized was over, steamrolled by selection committees, predatory real estate deals and weak press. By fictionalizing the narration as first-person accounts of friends, family and colleagues, Beckley provides a unique insight into Michael’s character, preferring to make him an outsider in his own story. Stylistically, Beckley achieves a kind of compromise between journalistic distance and empathy: “Robert abruptly pulled into a drive whose massive iron gates opened as if at his command. The gates closed behind us as I thought, Robert now has his prey.” However, many of the “interviews” feel inconsequential; they sometimes include various references to simple troubles, such as work complaints, while summarizing instead of creating powerful scenes: “The place I was working had really neat people who held potluck dinners every other Friday night where everyone would bring their kids and pitch in and we’d talk about what we were reading, smoke some pot, and drink cheap wine.” For much of the work, Michael’s disappearance and death feel like peripheral concerns, though many readers will find those concerns among the story’s most intriguing.
An extended human interest piece in the guise of a multiple-perspective novel, made tired by its mundane plots.