Knopf. May 2022. 256p. ISBN 9780593320273. $27. F
DEBUT In his fiction debut, journalist/essayist Baker tells two stories of marriages in crisis. In Rome, Ayoub and Amira rebuild and renegotiate the terms of their marriage after Ayoub is released from wrongful detainment for terrorist activity. Amira, who converted to Islam when she married Ayoub, must contend with well-meaning family and friends, while Ayoub suffers from physical and psychological distress in the aftermath of his ordeal. In North Carolina, empty nesters Melanie and Art are sparked to reinvolve themselves in the activism of their youth when they learn that a small airline in their town has been contracted by the CIA to transport detainees suspected of terrorism. Complicating matters is that Melanie has been having an affair with the airline’s owner, with whom she serves on the school board. Baker deftly depicts the nuances and contradictions of marriage over time: how people evolve or drift apart as circumstances change; how they learn to accommodate (or not) their partners’ transformations, whether caused by sudden trauma (Ayoub and Amira) or a long slide into middle-aged complacency.
VERDICT Despite the intense subject matter, Baker avoids melodrama in this relatively brief novel, and some expected confrontations never occur, which will frustrate some readers and relieve others.
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