An unnamed narrator spends a snowy pre-Christmas Saturday in an unidentified European city. He’s in the company of a young woman, a native who’s helping him find an apartment so he can abandon the cheap hotel where he’s been living. That’s a fair summary of the action in the foreground of Greg Baxter’s slim first novel—so you may guess that plot is not its strength. But if your taste runs to novels that deeply and methodically explore the workings of one character’s mind amid an intensely realistic atmosphere, add The Apartment to your reading list.
Saskia, the narrator’s companion, works at an economics research institute by day and “takes a lot of pills and goes to gigs and attends parties that last three days.” She’s someone with whom he’s “fallen into a swift intimacy of pure circumstance,” but there’s nothing sexual about their liaison; if anything they’ve transcended that to connect on a deeper plane.
Although Baxter’s novel is rooted in the streets of the gray, urban setting, his narrator, in his early 40s, spends almost as much time rooting through a past he says he tries not to think about as he does describing his intermittent success at acculturation. At the midpoint of his life, he’s served as a submarine officer, moving on from there to service in Iraq, where he had “assigned death from a distance,” only to return to Baghdad as a private contractor, engaged, he says, in a computer surveillance business that “made me a fortune.” All these experiences fueled his “hatred of the kingdom of ambitious stupidity, of the loud and gruesome happenstance of American domination.” The novel features effortless time shifts, including one especially moving encounter with the mother of a deceased high school friend. Sandwiched between the narrator’s encounters, present and past, are discourses on subjects as diverse as Renaissance architecture, perspective in art, Bach’s “Chaconne” and the history of the violin, all of which add texture to the story.
In an interview, Baxter observed that he “wanted to write . . . something profoundly simple in its conception but that could achieve a level of complexity, suspense, and purpose through details, subtlety, and suppressed intensity.” He’s succeeded in doing that here. As hushed as the snow that blankets the city through which its characters move, this meditative story should find an audience of thoughtful readers.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
In this debut, one of Twelve's two galley giveaways at BookExpo America, an American travels the streets of an unnamed European city with a man helping him hunt for an apartment. The result is a novel that investigates friendship, violence, and the clash of cultures in clean, straightforward language.[Page 52]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
An unnamed American recently arrived in an unnamed European city--likely Eastern European by the real Old World feel and the narrator's stay at the Hotel Rus--hunts for an apartment one bitterly cold day with the help of Saskia, a woman he has just met. Along the way, they encounter various friends of hers and are invited to a party. Initially, then, it seems that this intriguing, rather low-key debut will unfold as the painstakingly detailed account of a day in the life of a disaffected man, and that it does. But the story deepens in unexpected ways. While battling slush and stopping with Saskia for a snack, our narrator reflects on his past in dribs and drabs, revealing his former life in the U.S. Navy and then as a highly paid military contractor ("The Army didn't trust you if your fees weren't preposterous"). It's one quick step to more telling reflections on the uses of memory and the pervasiveness of violence, but to Baxter's credit, he doesn't burst forth with a melodramatic moment that wholly explains or changes his character's life. VERDICT Baxter's thoughtful, quietly penetrating book is for those seeking more than a quick read. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal[Page 62]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
A Navy veteran in his early 40s who has made big money working as a military contractor in Iraq explores an unnamed European city with a possibly romantically inclined local woman, Saskia, in this intriguing debut novel from Baxter, author of the memoir A Preparation for Death. In the course of one day spent searching for an apartment, the anonymous narrator looks back on his role in the American military and his own rather conventional brand of cowardice and hypocrisy: "I hated America, and I wished that it or I did not exist... And when I went to my office, I dressed in a decent suit and put an American flag on the lapel." This sensitive, unassuming book is notable for its exploration of the basic disparity between the idea of American power and how it is actually manifested in the world--in this case, through the self-admittedly "contemptible" functionary who finds himself seeking an alternate reality in an unfamiliar place, but seems destined to remain "a citizen of resignation." Where the novel shines most is in the telling--the slow, deliberate narrative unfolds like a quiet symphony, and Baxter's prose lingers inexplicably, like a beautifully sad song. Agent: Lucy Luck, Lucy Luck Associates. (Dec.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC