My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Written as a series of discrete, first-person stories, Frederick Reiken weaves a narrative built from the nexus of the Holocaust. In August 1941, five hundred Jewish intellectuals gathered in Kovno, Lithuania under the pretense they had been selected by the SS for specialized research and archival work. Instead, these men were taken outside the city and shot. A suggestion that two may have survived the massacre becomes the foundation of Reiken’s ambitious, complex and often-lovely novel.
An attempt to summarize the story would detract from a reader’s discovery of its many layers and nuances. Each chapter leads the reader deeper into a mystery that includes a 60’s political fugitive, Katherine Goldman, who eludes capture by CIA Agent Sachs, a cult of wealthy sadists engaged in the torture of children, a dramatic reawakening from a coma, stories of love and cuckoldry in desperate times, an escape to the Negev desert from a mold-infected home on the Atlantic seaboard, a gifted young woman whose intellectual curiosity forces open the infected wounds of a buried past. Music, manatees, martyrs, moonlight and multiple personality disorder make for a novel that will drain and exhilarate. If you take too long to read Day for Night, you may find yourself flipping back through chapters to reorient your understanding of the many characters and their connections. But I can’t imagine lingering – you will be compelled by the narrative’s tension and pace to push through to the bittersweet end.
It is impossible not to compare Day for Night to the contemporary masters of interlocking narratives: David Mitchell and Michael Cunningham. Reiken’s writing doesn’t exhibit the same ethereal lyricism of these writers. By contrast, his characters are far more earthbound in language, emotion and action. But like Mitchell and Cunningham, Reiken writes deftly from multiple perspectives: children, women, the elderly, American, Israeli, Eastern European, the hunter and the hunted.
There were enough threads left dangling and a few grasps into a black hole of metaphysical speculation to hint at an overreach of plot. I’m still trying to determine if the many inspired parts build a coherent whole. But if a story lingers and teases at my consciousness long after I have read the end page, I know I’ve encountered a bit of literary magic.
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