Reviewed by D. Donovan
Frank is a photographer who has spent his life documenting disasters, but now he’s on a different kind of mission: one that seeks to capture not despair and terror, but what is good and hopeful in the world.
His journey to the mountains of France only serves to emphasize his isolation, for there is nobody to greet him upon arrival and no connections to touch base with. He is alone, and his seclusion will be one of the facets that makes his re-connections with the world so vivid.
David Vigoda’s special strength lies in his ability to take ordinary settings and circumstances and elevate them into accounts packed with extra-sensory life and perceptions: “Stepping onto the stairway beneath a brilliant mid-day spring Mediterranean sun, nodding goodbye to the co-pilot, he reminded himself that the only way to enter a new world was through the center of the old and that there could be no decisive move forward without the seductions of hesitation. At the bottom was a piece of old carpeting drenched in cleanser, an improvised response to a recent explosion of hoof and mouth disease among British herds, and as the liquid squished around his shoes he smiled at the attendants and gazed at the palm trees thinking that he had died and been reborn. ‘That’s why the attendant in Heathrow was so cheerful, she was my guide to the afterlife. I died there and the plane was my coffin. But that long claustrophobic corridor was also a birth canal, and the plane a bird carrying me to my new life. Emerging from it was rebirth, the disinfecting mat a purification.”
Under his hand, the process of rebirth and protagonists whose very different lives and forms of chaos intersect make for gripping descriptions of vulnerabilities and revelations without neglecting intricate descriptions of the most subtle of details, such as a dinner between a physicist and a philosopher and how their discussion evolves into touch and something more.
Of necessity, these descriptions are sometimes lengthy and adopt a step-by-step examination of the process of connection. There’s nothing quick about Vigoda’s representation of these experiences, and readers searching for stories that skim over these smaller details in favor of nonstop action and drama might find themselves stymied by the slow, inevitable documentation of relationships and close encounters.
But that’s one of the delights afforded to those who would take the time to absorb a fine meal rather than inhaling aromas on the run: they settle, they grasp, and they become an irresistibly compelling piece of a story line that moves deftly beyond two isolated and lonely individuals and into the trajectory of their lives and decisions and the intersection of choices both good and bad.
Using this slower approach, truths sparkle like gems from casual and serious encounters: “She stared at him, eyes still pleading for forgiveness, for him not to be too hurt. “To know how to free oneself is nothing,” she said. “The hard part is knowing how to be free.” She knew she was quoting from a novel again but at that moment, wanting so much to change the look in his eyes, she couldn’t think of a better way to speak the truth.” Arrogance, survival, science and nature, and the worlds of art and science ultimately lead to new definitions of love, new confrontations of myths, and original insights into reality, choice, and consequence.
Readers who look for a novel well steeped in philosophy which takes the classic love scenario and turns it upside down will find much to relish in this evocative story of adventurers who seek to reinvent not just themselves and each other, but their worlds.