By Claire Adam
281 pp. SJP for Hogarth. $26.
Dogs are a looming, watchful presence throughout Adam’s unblinking depiction of a crime-besieged Trinidadian landscape where robbers and kidnappers target the poor and well-off alike and even those who can invest in security systems must be wary of the men who install them. The Rottweiler and two pothounds kept by Clyde and Joy, the working-class couple at the locus of this wrenching novel, aren’t enough to ward off a break-in that leaves Joy tied up and traumatized along with their twin sons, Peter and Paul.
More than anything, the event exposes the worrisome vulnerability of learning-disabled Paul, whose failure to inoculate himself against the routine dangers of his rough-and-tumble environs is reinforced by the “retarded” identity his family and teachers have imposed on him. When the boy suddenly goes missing, Adam retraces the years preceding his disappearance. As she works inexorably to the novel’s harrowing resolution, she deploys the varying points of view of Paul, his parents and a selfless priest — but not, to the book’s detriment, that of Paul’s high-achieving brother. In fluid and uncluttered prose, “Golden Child” weaves an enveloping portrait of an insular social order in which the claustrophobic support of family and neighbors coexists with an omnipresent threat from the same corners. As a bighearted relative blithely remarks: “It’s still family. In-law or out-law, no matter!”
THE FAR FIELD
By Madhuri Vijay
432 pp. Grove. $27.
This consuming novel tracks the convergence of two Indian communities: the privileged society of bourgeois Bangalore, where Vijay’s flinty young narrator, Shalini, is cosseted by her wealthy father and caustically unfiltered mother, and, far to the north, a hardscrabble Himalayan village in Kashmir. The conduit for this coming together is Bashir Ahmed, a plucky Kashmiri clothing salesman who ingratiates himself with mother and daughter during Shalini’s childhood, only to disappear from their life years later after a disastrous party her father throws in his honor. Prompted by her mother’s subsequent death, Shalini journeys to Kashmir in search of Bashir, falling into the rabbit hole of quotidian suffering the impoverished locals endure, caught in the cross hairs of insurgent militants and government soldiers.
The author teases along her protagonist’s political awakening with nagging mysteries (How did Shalini’s mother die? Was Bashir complicit in the mass murder of Hindu villagers?) and the occasional hoary gothic-romance trope (the sullen-but-smitten Kashmiri who admonishes the interloping Shalini, “You should not have come here”). But Vijay’s command of storytelling is so supple that it’s easy to discount the stealth with which she constructs her tale, shifting time frames with seamless ease and juggling a wealth of characters who cling to the heart. The show-stealer is Shalini’s mercurial mother, an “outrageous queen” of capricious gestures. Vijay smartly resists psychoanalyzing her, implying that the china-shop bulls in our families can be survived but never entirely explained away.