A stolen backpack in Casablanca prompts a host of more psychological losses for the heroine of this high-tension narrative.
Every novel by Vida explores what distance from home can do to an American woman’s perception of herself, whether the locale is the Philippines (And Now You Can Go, 2003), Lapland (Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, 2007), or Turkey (The Lovers, 2010). Here, the unnamed narrator has arrived in Morocco for a solitary getaway—the details as to why aren’t disclosed till the ending—but the backpack containing her laptop, camera, credit cards, and passport is taken from her just as she’s checking into her hotel. The Kafkaesque plot turns that ensue serve to further erase her from the map; she claims another woman’s papers from a backpack the police wrongly believe is hers; a police report she needs to recover her identity goes missing; and, in a turn that occupies the heart of the novel, she takes a job as a stand-in for a famous actress who’s filming a movie in the city. The novel’s second-person voice is a not-so-subtle prompt for the reader to think about how he or she might act in these predicaments and a more slippery prompt to think about what identity is: who are “you” when your family, sense of place, and skills are expunged? Vida’s plainspoken, sometimes ice-cold minimalist style serves the question well, though the novel struggles to arrive at a clean conclusion, even a cleanly ambiguous one. Juggling the heroine’s Casablanca predicament with an increasingly wrenching recollection of the emotional messes she left back in the States, Vida works in unlikely coincidences and fits of flightiness to sell the character’s sense of dispossession. But the novel still packs a wallop, taking the themes of Camus and Kierkegaard and transplanting them into a story with the pace and intrigue of a page-turner.
A speedy and suspenseful fish-out-of-water tale with a slyly philosophical bent.