Novelist Milton’s (The Godmother, 2018, etc.) political and ideological thriller is “ripped from the headlines” and should come with a trigger warning for Trump followers.
The book starts off with a bang, literally. Elsa Romero and Karl Reinholdt are facing off at a demonstration for immigrants’ rights. Her sign reads “LOVE WILL PREVAIL”; his, “MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN.” A shot rings out, and the gun lands at Karl’s feet. Instinctively he picks it up. But Elsa knows that Karl didn’t fire the fatal shot and tells the police so. Thus begins what may be called “The Salvation of Karl Reinholdt.” Karl fell in with the “alt-right” after the factory that supported the town of Freiburg, Ohio, shut down. He lost his job there, and his parents saw their pensions halved. Enraged and depressed, he was eventually persuaded to blame immigrants. Elsa and her friend and mentor, Sister Solana, are both immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Elsa takes Karl in. They begin to trust one another, and ever so slowly, Elsa deprograms him, so to speak. Let it be said that Milton’s heart is in the right place. We are happy to cheer Elsa and Karl on. But it’s rather clear from the start that Karl will be saved, that he is at heart a decent guy and not a racist. Rather, he is an economically displaced white guy desperate to lay blame for how the traditional life he trusted could have come crashing down this way. In fact, one could argue that Milton has made up too easy a case: Karl isn’t the scary true believer who will eventually blow up a mosque or torch a black church. And the scary confrontation with the real killer has a whiff of deus ex machina about it. But these quibbles aside, Milton does a conscientious job of dramatizing the arguments, drawing Elsa and Karl as real people in conflict, and nicely pacing the conversion.
A worthwhile read despite a simplification that might put some readers off.