Absolution

Patrick Flanery. Riverhead, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59448-817-7
Flanery’s intricate debut, full of shifting perspectives and temporal leaps, calls for disciplined sleuthing to fully realize its merits. Set mostly in a richly described postapartheid South Africa, the interconnected plot lines follow aging, contentious writer Clare Wald as she attempts to assemble the sordid details of her revolutionary daughter Laura’s disappearance over two decades ago. She’s also dealing with her own remorseless complicity in the assassination years ago of her sister and her sister’s husband, a prominent figure in the National Party. Another plot finds Sam Leroux, a white South African whose parents died in a botched bombing and whose aunt was murdered in a robbery, returning to write Clare’s biography, an act that slowly reveals complicated bonds between them. Yet many questions remain: what became of Laura? Was she involved in the death of Sam’s parents? Who killed Sam’s aunt, and was the death connected to a break-in witnessed by Clare? Which version of the truth, if any, is “real”? Adeptly orchestrating multiple points of view, Flanery builds intrigue by allowing his characters’ unreliable interpretations of history, but with mixed results. Early understanding of the novel’s confusing form (chapters entitled “Absolution” are from Clare’s book, for one) would enable deeper, less frustrating reading. Still, this is a puzzle worth solving. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2012
Release date: 04/12/2012
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