Little, Brown £11.99, 321pp. £10.79 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Day For Night, By Frederick Reiken
Friday 02 July 2010
Frederick Reiken's haunting and ambitious new novel begins in Florida, then moves between America, the Caribbean and Israel. The title suggests illusion, paradox, the artifice used in film. As if to underline this, Reiken writes that "we comprehend that what we see will never coincide with absolute reality." Day for Night demands we trust the author from the off, as the narrative appears so random. The year is 1984. Dr Beverly Rabinowitz, her lover David and his 13-year-old son, are taken by a guide, Tim, to swim with wild manatees. It should be exhilarating but instead it feels sad. David has leukemia and has asked Beverly to adopt Jordan should he die.
That night Beverly meets with Tim. The moonlit water reminds her suddenly of her father, left behind when she and her mother escaped the Nazis in Kovno. Two months before they fled Poland for Lithuania, five-year-old Beverly had gone with him to admire the full moon over the floodplain. Beverly and Tim are linked more closely than they realise. It's "six degrees of separation" and life's unknowability which lie at this novel's heart.
Tim narrates the following chapter. He and Dee, lead singer of the band Tim plays in, fly to visit Dee's brother, who is in a coma. There's something sinister about Dee's childhood. From then on, each chapter introduces a new first-person narrator, including a nonagenarian in an old people's home, a teenage girl, an FBI agent. The voices adopt different forms: a debriefing; diary extracts; letters; notes to an unborn child. As the story progresses, a little more is revealed about a mystery involving 500 Jewish intellectuals murdered in Lithuania by the Nazis. As one character comments, referring to a Borges story, "you must look deep rather than far if you want to unlock any of the secrets of the universe".
It's not just Borges whom Reiken reels into the work. We get Jung, Zeno of Elea, Orwell, Wilhelm Reich, Novalis - and Hasidic lore, multiple personality disorder, coma reawakening, radical Sixties politics. If this sounds like mind-boggling overload, Reiken does deliver. There's a satisfaction in mapping connections. For example, the plane passenger next to Tim is an enogmatic fugitive - tracked obsessionally by the FBI agent. Teasingly, she is called Goldman. He is Sachs.
Reiken reflects on our huge appetite for stories: "Yet each narrative will reach a point at which it no longer suffices... any narrative sequence defers meaning". We must construct our own meanings, even if that results in sometimes seeing day for night.
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