Near-future tale probes the cause-and-effect of a never-ending war against the terrorists.
As cautionary tales go, this one has a mean and unusually topical hook: the year is 2008, and Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp is still housing terror suspects, both American and foreign, and trying to prize any scrap of viable information out of them. Things drift steadily in a downward spiral of paranoia and isolation as coldly logical government operatives rationalize their way out of feeling guilt about anything they do in the course of carrying out orders. But first-timer Weber apparently doesn’t really want to outline the contours of this ugly new world, being more interested in drawing comparisons among his three main characters. The most central (his suicide, and the flashback leading up to it, bookend the story), Paul Vines, is an American teaching literature in Berlin, ostensibly so he can be closer to his ex-wife and young son, living in Denmark. Good at narcissistic self-destruction, he launches into an affair with a married student, meanwhile trying to ignore all the echoes in his own life of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Next is civilian psychologist Laura Ivans, who assists in interrogating a prisoner at Guantánamo and is repulsed by how quickly she becomes inured to the not-quite-torture used to gain confessions. On the home front is Michael Dougherty, who interrogates suspicious foreigners at JFK airport and gets in over his head with a prisoner whose LifeLog (a creepy new sort of all-inclusive life history/data trail) may have got him incorrectly fingered. Weber moves back and forth among these three, drawing faint strings to connect them, but none is vibrant enough to stand alone, and the connective material never forms a satisfyingly strong web. There’s the occasional attempt to get inside a character’s head and to show a deteriorated psychological climate, everyone rotted through with fear and loathing, but it’s patchwork stuff.
A great opportunity wasted.