New in Books
The Garden of Last Days
Those who have read Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog will find themselves in familiar territory with his second novel. Once again there's a hard-luck lady, once again a good-hearted violence-prone schlep, and once again a Middle-Eastern man as the ripped-from-the-headlines hook. In HoSaF, the Persian-born Colonel Behrani was a political refugee, struggling to overthrow the humble circumstances of his exile. In TGoLD, Mansoor Bassam al-Jizani is a Saudi terrorist, preparing to hijack American Airlines flight 11. The escalated threat from the first book to the second is symptomatic of the post-9/11 shift in America: from the conflicted xenophobia of a nation that glorifies its immigrant past and resents its immigrant present to a simple-Simon sort that sees the enemy in every foreign face. Because, finally, jingoism is on the wane, TGoLD arrives too late to tap so directly into this exhausted vein of fear, and, consequently, feels a bit dated.
Dubus is a committed practitioner of the half-novel/half-movie-script hybrid. To the movie-script side, TGoLD owes its melodrama. April, a stripper, has a chance to make quick cash in the Champagne Room. Her 3-year-old daughter, Franny, is poorly babysat in the back of the club. Sex-and-money-hating Bassam al-Jizani dips his fingers in the fleshpot. To the literary side, the novel owes its sluggish start, its characters' extended self-examination, and its tendency to quote lines from The Wasteland. Combined, it becomes a morality play with a moral dear to Bassam al-Jizani's own heart: capitalism comingles the libidinal commodity and the commodified libido, and the hellfires of Shaytan beckon. A tragedy with a happy ending, the novel suggests that God redeems everyone (except the terrorists) through good old-fashioned puritanical suffering. It's as if Dubus hopes to imply that our type of fundamentalism is better; that when we say a woman must renounce sex, independence, and ambition in favor of marriage, we do it because we love her.
Despite its misogyny, TGoLD is a steadily likeable novel. Like the novel's Puma Club, Dubus stuffs the room with all types; and like a professional tease, he withholds the goods. He gives us a thriller without a climax, a romance without consummation, and a cop drama without guns. Yet TGoLD has moments of realism fully developed enough to be affecting rather than affected, and to convince, I suspect, a broad range of readers that they have learned something essential about the desires that unite America and her enemies. JONATHAN CRIMMINS
Andre Dubus III reads Thurs June 26, Town Hall, 7:30 pm, $5.