From recovered moments of small lives lived during the last third of the twentieth century, Dan Chaon has constructed a remarkable debut novel that avoids grand statements but says plenty about America today. The book’s first protagonist is Jonah Doyle, who grew up unhappily with his resentful mother and remote grandfather in South Dakota in the 1970s. Alone in Chicago twenty-five years later, he worries about his own insignificance:
Unlike the characters in great novels, he had no connection to the major world of human endeavor – no relationship to politics, or sociology, or economics, or the great movements of his time. The stuff that would be remembered.
Chaon’s America is the poor Midwest – a world of sullen ordinariness; of dusty towns strung out across endless prairie; of the utter blackness of night-time roads. At every turn his quiet Americans suffer the slow choke of loneliness.
The story begins with a scene of startling brutality. A few days