Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Geography of Secrets by Frederick Reuss (2010)

I recently received a review copy of A Geography of Secrets (2010), the fifth novel by Frederick Reuss, through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. The books I get through the Early Reviewers program are always interesting to read, but only rarely do I luck on one as beautifully written and nicely constructed as this.

A Geography of Secrets is told in alternating chapters -- the third person story of Noel Leonard, a federal defense analyst; and the first person story of our unnamed narrator, a mapmaker whose father, retired from the Foreign Service, has recently died in Switzerland. Both men are based in Washington, D.C. and the city and its bureaucracies, and their influence on the two men, are lovingly described by Reuss.

Noel is feeling disconnected from his only child, a daughter, who recently left home for college and won't return his calls, and he and his wife are drifting apart. He can't tell them (or anyone) about his job analyzing maps and drone footage to plan military attacks with the defense department, and when his decisions lead to a school being bombed in Pakistan, his delicate balance of routine is irrevocably shifted.

Our narrator travels to Switzerland for his father's funeral and meets a friend of his father's that he had never seen before. This pushes him to dig into the past and learn the truth about the work his father did for the government and the real implications of the end of his parent's marriage when the family was living in Germany.

The two narratives intersect briefly at the beginning of the book and then unexpectedly (and perfectly) at the end. Choosing to structure the book in a back and forth switch between first and third person provides a satisfying foundation to this exploration of the things we say and the things we withhold. Reuss is a beautiful writer -- descriptive without being flowery, with (for the most part) realistic dialogue and convincing interactions. The male mid-life crisis has been explored over and over again in literature, and while I like a lot of those novels, I generally have a hard time relating to them. Reuss does the genre justice, and this book was a pleasure to read.

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