cover image Necessary Errors

Necessary Errors

Caleb Crain. Penguin, $16 trade paper (472p) ISBN 978-0-14-312241-8

Crain reinvents the novel of the innocent abroad in his well-wrought debut. Fresh off the failure of his first relationship since coming out (at least to himself), Jacob relocates from Massachusetts to Prague, where he discovers a loose-knit community of expatriates, many of whom, like Jacob, teach English to Czechs. It’s 1990, and Prague—perhaps like Jacob and his friends—is poised on the brink of changes it does not yet fully understand. Jacob, an aspiring writer, is both sensitive and observant, a witness to his friends’ romantic entanglements as well as the victim of heartbreak himself. The novel is full of the kinds of conversations shared by intelligent, earnest young people everywhere; the parallels between their idealism and uncertainty and those of their adopted country are handled with great skill. “Being here is what you’re doing, when you’re here,” Jacob observes to a friend; this freedom from responsibility and traditional aspirations is what both attracts Jacob and makes him uneasy. The unhurried pace and lack of conventional plot seem deliberate; instead, it’s Jacob’s ongoing redefining of “exile” and his discovery of self in an unfamiliar community that provide meaning and richness. (Aug.)