The impact a return to the past can have on the present is the theme of this delicately crafted novel by Whitbread winner and Booker nominee Justin Cartwright. Dan Silas, who has been living in his native England for the last 27 years returns to the American town where he grew up for his high school reunion. The place resonates with poignant reminders of his teenage years, not least his deeply cherished memories of Gloria, his childhood sweetheart. But a journey back cannot fail to disrupt one's perceptions of one's past, and Dan discovers that not only are his memories of his relationship with Gloria a false recording of reality but that she gave birth to their daughter soon after he left America. That daughter, of whom he never knew, is now dead, killed by a serial killer a few years previously. Furthermore, his oldest friend Gary has suffered a breakdown and now believes himself to be the brother of a dead Indian chief. Dan tries to resolve his sense of helplessness in the face of a present and a past that no longer make sense by visiting his daughter's killer in prison and by retrieving some "stolen" Indian artefacts from a museum for Gary. Cartwright explores well the dislocation Dan experiences as a consequence of this sudden radical corruption of his life and the way his necessary readjustment throws his present life into sharper focus. At times the novel suffers from a sugary American pathos that is a little cloying, and some incidents, Gary's illness for example, are treated with frustrating simplicity. Despite this, the novel is a haunting examination of the fragile relationship between experience and identity. --Perry Chaser
From Publishers Weekly
Though Cartwright's (The Face I Meet) story of a British man's return to the America of his high school years won England's Whitbread Award in 1998, it is likely to read less well on this side of the Atlantic, with its intermittently patronizing depiction of middle America. Dan Silas, a London-based former advertising executive whose professional and personal life is in disarray, returns to Hollybush, Mich., for his 30th high school reunion. He reunites with his old girlfriend Gloria, who informs him not only that is he is the father of her daughter, but that the daughter has been killed by a serial killer. He discovers as well that his beloved friend Gary, unbalanced since a breakdown during his freshman year at Harvard, believes himself to be Pale Eagle, a 19th-century follower of Tecumseh. Eager to connect with his old circle and to be moved by the generous, large-scale emotions that he feels are quintessentially American, Silas agrees to visit Gloria's daughter's killer in prison, and he also steals valuable Native American artifacts from a London museum for Gary. But Silas's unhesitating commitment to his classmates sits uneasily with his sense that he is "in the middle of nature with amiable morons." Gloria, whose "breasts have welded into a bosom" works at the biggest Christmas store in the country, populated by "frolicsome... very fat people"; Duane, another old acquaintance, has a "potato-dumpling look." Silas's obsession with aging, neglected bodies can be construed as an attempt at pathos; but since he never subjects himself to similar scrutiny, they seem to bespeak an author's contempt for the overfed flipside of American generosity rather than a damaged expatriate's uneasy reunion with people he once deeply loved. (Oct.)
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