On the surface, this novel of identity theft delivers page-turning suspense, but it also delves deeper into the essence of identity.
Having explored the past for perspective on the present in recent novels (the Kinsey sex report in The Inner Circle, 2004; the hippie commune of Drop City, 2003), the prolific Boyle addresses the contemporary concern of identity theft, showing how easy it is for a cyber-criminal to appropriate someone else’s identity and how difficult it can be for the victim to untangle the credit and criminal implications. Stopped for a traffic violation, deaf schoolteacher Dana finds herself jailed on charges she can’t understand, for crimes committed in states she has never visited. Her only ally in clearing herself is Bridger, the boyfriend she recently met at a dance club. From her Kafkaesque predicament, Dana develops a Moby-Dick–sized obsession (both literary references are evoked within the novel) to find the criminal and regain her identity. When she and Bridger stumble upon some contact information on the perpetrator, they make a big mistake that threatens the novel’s plausibility: They call the crook, letting him know they’re onto him, rather than passing the information along for police to investigate. What results is a cross-country chase, as Dana and Bridger pursue a quarry who has serial identities, is totally self-centered (whatever self he has assumed) and is convinced that he is society’s victim. He’s a younger, psychopathic Gatsby, using his purloined wealth to forge an identity that attracts beautiful women whom he treats as identity accessories. The quest costs Dana her job and threatens Bridger’s, as he discovers how little he really knows Dana, while she realizes how much she has defined her own identity as a deaf woman, as a daughter (her mother knows her in a way that Bridger never will) and as a victim.
By the riveting climax, characters and readers alike recognize that the very concept of a fixed, static identity is a delusion.