David Plante, Author . Pantheon $23 (247p) ISBN 978-0-375-42461-8

Two mysteries obsess Gerard Chauvin, protagonist of this overwrought novel. The first is the mystery of his six-year-old son Harry’s tragic death. The second, onto which he deflects his grief, is the obscure question of why the alphabet came to be ordered in its familiar sequence of letters. A series of unsettling coincidences leads him to Syrian ruins and to other lost souls—a Chinese woman whose daughter overdosed on heroin, a Greek Jew whose wife was murdered by terrorists—seeking enlightenment in the alphabet. Assisted by a dotty Cambridge scholar, they plunge into the ancient arcana of writing, as if in the origins of letters they could find both a way to communicate their sorrow and a hidden meaning behind the seemingly arbitrary happenstances of life and death. Plante (The Family ) imparts an eeriness to his prose—Gerard feels the shades of the dead crowding about him—but often lapses into inchoate mysticism: “we can only have an impression of everything all together and can never understand everything all together, because everything all together, everything in the world all together, is an impossibility.” From the abstruse intellectual quest his characters embark upon, the reader doesn’t get a firm sense of the emotional burden they are carrying. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 07/23/2007
Release date: 08/01/2007
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 132 pages - 978-0-307-47282-3
Paperback - 247 pages - 978-0-307-27801-2
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