An upper-middle-class woman’s life and marriage are disturbed when she suspects her beloved older brother is a serial bomber in this quiet second novel from Kegan (The Baby, 1990), inspired by the story of David Kaczynski, who turned in his brother for being the Unabomber.
The daughter of an old, progressive, politically influential California family, Natalie Askedahl lives comfortably with her lawyer husband and two daughters, the oldest of whom is an academic prodigy. She remains distant from her siblings—sanctimonious hippie sister Sara and recluse brother Bobby, to whom she had once been deeply devoted. Bobby’s mathematical genius imploded on itself years ago, and he now lives a life of isolation in a cabin in the wilderness. One day, while examining a paranoid letter from Bobby to their mother, Natalie notices striking similarities to the manifesto of a serial bomber who has been targeting faculty members at California’s public universities. After some deliberation, she turns this information over to the FBI. As her family’s illusions about Bobby rapidly unravel, Natalie clings to the sweetest memories of her brother and probes at the more painful ones. The uncovered layers are predictable, and none of the revelations feel particularly fresh. Natalie's unease about her brilliant daughter’s resemblance to Bobby’s young self is present but underexplored, and her marriage troubles hit all the expected beats. She's a milquetoast, though it's not entirely her fault—when she asserts herself and makes her own choices, the other characters unfairly eviscerate her for it. The novel comes most alive when class anxieties and clashing politics surface. “My parents had devoted their lives to the vision of California that my country-club in-laws had proudly voted to undo,” she muses in a rare moment of anger. If only there’d been more of them.
A novel that strikes all the proper notes but doesn’t quite blend them together or inspire.