The problem with writing about disaffected people is that it is difficult to win over the reader’s sympathy or trust for your characters. I can understand that the author is trying to make a statement about the disconnected nature of modern society, and the level of sociopathy we all invariably have to engage in, to some degree, in order to be able to function as a proper corporate citizen. But this does not render it palatable or even accessible.
Greg Baxter’s fairly short novel is imitation stream of consciousness: while there are no chapter or section breaks, his nameless protagonist recalls various formative events in his life, while on the hunt for a suitable apartment in a winter-shrouded, nameless city. Along the way he encounters various equally damaged people, which Baxter uses as scaffolding to write about all sorts of things from Bach’s genius to master-planning cities.
We gradually discover that the protagonist has some connection to the ‘Iraq war’ – but being unreliable as well as omniscient, the reader is always caught off-guard, and does not know what to think or whom to believe. Of course, this could be the point all along.
Needless to say there is not much plot progression or even narrative tension here; that there is no real sense of an ending is par for the course for these sorts of novels. I do not think Baxter adds anything new to this subject matter, or even addresses some of the problems that this kind of narrative invariably raises. I found this a frustrating read, with occasional glimpses of something lurking beyond the text, but overall too muddied and ineffectual to make much of an impact.