cover image The New Republic

The New Republic

Lionel Shriver. Harper, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-210332-1

A separatist organization based in a fictionalized Portuguese peninsula could have been fertile territory for Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) to send up terrorism, but this lightly ironic novel, written in the mid-’90s and offered now that we have enough distance from 9/11, is done in by a woolly plot and an out-of-date atmosphere. Edgar Kellogg, who has always played second fiddle to more charismatic men, quits his corporate law job to pursue journalism, finding temporary employment as a stringer at the National Record. Kellogg’s first mission: to locate the former stringer, missing in “Barba,” a god-forsaken region of Portugal and home turf to the radical Os Soldados Ousados de Barba (SOB). As Kellogg quickly learns, the former stringer belonged to that category of charismatic men: a beloved, larger-than-life character who had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand. But soon the puzzling circumstances of the stringer’s disappearance—hinting at connections to the SOB—offer Kellogg the chance to assume his predecessor’s social mantle. Though Shriver’s characters are sharply drawn, they lack sympathy, and several plot contrivances are too jarring to overlook. Terrorism is merely a backdrop to a fairly banal exploration of popularity. (Mar. 27)