Modeled on myth, the redemptive tale of an intermittently unscrupulous adult whose physical and emotional damage is mystically healed.
D’Erasmo’s insights, sensitivity and linguistic flair are applied to a hero of questionable appeal in her oddly paced third novel (A Seahorse Year, 2004, etc.). Gabriel was an impressionable child whose early years were colored by his mother’s imaginative influence: the stories from Ovid she read to him when he was sick; the cities she constructed out of waste paper. But the childhood idyll ends when Gabriel’s father walks out, disappearing from the family’s life. Financially ruined, they move to Florida where the mother works in a motel, leaving Gabriel to run wild. Theft, sex with men for money and drug dealing ensue. Expelled from school, Gabriel ends up in a remote Arizona college making his own version of Joseph Cornell boxes, odd jumbles of items inside frames. Later, in New York, he writes obituaries and dreams of art and owning a house in Brooklyn, but he can’t decide whether to commit to his boyfriend Janos. Then Gabriel develops an unusual cancer. On the eve of aggressive chemotherapy, he steps out of his life and goes to Mexico, the last known place visited by his father. There, working in a spiritual/artistic commune, he falls under the spell of a possibly visionary child whose death frees Gabriel to purge darker aspects of his own psyche. Reunited with his mother, forgiven by Janos, restored to a kind of health and working on a project that pays tribute to 9/11 and to existence beyond death, he resumes a connected life.
Affecting themes and deft technique aren’t enough to hoist aloft an intermittently abstract, solipsistic tale.