A meek bureaucrat travels to the Arctic in this new novel by Himmer (Writing, Literature and Publishing/Emerson College; The Bee-Loud Glade, 2011, etc.).
Himmer’s Everyman protagonist is Oscar, a man who once dreamed of exploring the Arctic but has instead settled for an office job at the Bureau of Ice Prognostication in Washington, D.C. Oscar's days at this strange government agency involve regularly checking a “pole cam” (which delivers real-time images of the Arctic) and focusing on the minutiae of his office, including the overhead light bulb and his food-obsessed partner, Alexi. As Oscar dreams of a more exciting life, Himmer finds shades of Walter Mitty. Then true adventure arrives; Oscar receives a new, mysterious assignment to travel to the Arctic. But what exactly is the purpose of this trip? And who are the strange men and women who seem to be following him, from the subways of D.C. to the cobblestone streets of Portland, Maine? Himmer’s core—the bureaucrat asked to do big things—recalls Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and the work of Douglas Adams, and there’s great hope that the novel will be a stunner once its plot gets rolling. But Himmer never quite finds his tone: if adventure, the book needs to move faster; if satire, it needs a firmer target. As a result, the novel feels static in its middle sections; even though Oscar is on a great journey, he has no control over any of it, and it's unclear where the tension and suspense lie. Himmer’s best writing is elegiac, as when Oscar reflects on his aloof wife and their disintegrating marriage. (In a great moment, Himmer makes the word “Moo” sound sadder than anything else.) But he doesn’t maintain this tone—doesn’t quite maintain any tone, really.
An intriguing if unsteady novel that slips and slides on all that ice, never quite finding its footing.