Simon & Schuster, £16.99, 340pp. £13.99 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Under The Same Stars, By Tim Lott

In John Steinbeck's East of Eden, the character Lee says "the greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears". Tim Lott's new novel delves into the heart of this original sin, of estrangement and separation, and explores whether, in a global climate of breakdown, there is hope of reconciliation and something like love.

During the financial collapse of 2008, Salinger Nash, named after the more famous JD, is a London-based artist who feels the emotional negative equity of the times keenly. He is prone to a depression that shames him, is convinced that his life is unravelling. His brother Carson, named after another American writer of loneliness, is a born-again Christian who has escaped to America, "the kingdom of the bland", and lives in New Orleans. His amiable fatalism seems impenetrable. Their father deserted them for Texas 30 years ago and the lingering animosity has poisoned the relationship between them all.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the brothers decide to track down their father and embark on a road trip across the wilderness of America in Carson's spotless Lexus - Salinger has to remove his shoes before settling into the passenger seat. From mutual suspicion their relationship touchingly approaches respect, but Salinger cannot dispel the ominousness of something dark on their horizon, as he carries a faded family Polaroid of someone who appears to have been severely beaten. Salinger senses that neither of them can fulfil their wishes without doing the other harm.

Mishaps abound, their car is stolen, they continue in grand Zen tradition on a motorcycle, and Salinger has a terrifying encounter with a spiritual healer. Arriving at their father's house they are confronted by his housekeeper who threatens them with a Magnum 44. Their father is dying and their unbearably poignant final meeting is a dust storm of accusation out of which emerges harsh truths and iron-forged mutual understanding.

This is not a bleak novel. There are achingly funny moments. Salinger and Carson's verbal punch-ups have the sting of a muscular wit, and patrolman Wendell Valentine who recovers their Lexus, referring to the brothers as "Limey faggots", is a generously comic character. Lott's narrative skill injects genuine pathos into a scene where they run over a dog and have to kill it, a moment of terrible disassociation that reveals a glimpse of chaos lurking beneath Carson's born-again equanimity. Salinger, too, finds the spectacle of violence strangely liberating. Death is compared with elegant simplicity to an iridescent tropical fish whose shockingly bold colours gradually fade to grey.

There is a tragic rejection at the heart of this story. Lott is attempting to solve what he sees as a deep-rooted crime against humanity, excavating the blank spaces beneath the rawness of everyday life. The boy's father ran away to America because it's a country "where loneliness has grandeur". The novel's sensitivity to emotional crisis is subtle and penetrating. Salinger visits a bookshop in Marfa, Texas to buy a copy of The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers for his brother, and the bookshop assistant says "Good books are really good though, aren't they? When you find them". This is one of them, a really good book.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before