What seems at first a tightly focused domestic drama about a middle-aged couple’s reaction to their son’s new girlfriend broadens onto a large socio-political canvas as liberal values run smack into fear of foreign invasiveness.
Chloe, an illustrator working on an edition of Wuthering Heights, and her history professor husband, Brendan, researching a book about the Crusades, live in a comfortably rural setting outside Manhattan. The two are typically self-satisfied, self-aware members of the left-leaning bourgeoisie. Chloe in particular prides herself on her open-mindedness, but she is immediately put off when only son Toby, a junior at NYU, introduces his exotic new girlfriend Salome, with whom he is clearly besotted. Salome, a scholarship student who immigrated to Louisiana with her father and brother after her mother and other brother were killed in Croatia, strikes Chloe as judgmental and possibly predatory. More sanguine, Brendan recognizes with nostalgia the sexual frisson between Salome and Toby. Chloe’s unease rises when Toby and Salome start living together. Salome becomes pregnant; she and Toby decide to marry; and all Chloe’s alarms go off. At the same time, she feels increasingly threatened by a foreign trespasser who has been shooting rabbits on her land and may or may not have committed several other invasive, violent acts. With Iraq an ever-present backdrop, Martin builds a discomforting sense of menace: Is Chloe paranoid or is the threat real? Even Toby fights his doubts about Salome, especially when she disappears the day after their marriage. She’s gone to Trieste to find her mother, who is not dead after all—she tells her story in italicized fragments throughout the novel. Toby soon follows Salome. After Chloe sends Brendan to intervene, her worst fears are realized, however inadvertently, at home and abroad.
A brilliant must-read from Martin (The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories, 2006, etc.), who captures the zeitgeist of contemporary America within a deeply personal context.