Saturday, February 18, 2017

All That's Left to Tell

All That's Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe
Flatiron Books: 2/14/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250085559

All That's Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe is a novel about telling stories set in a disturbing framework.

American Marc Laurent is a midlevel Pepsi executive who is taken hostage in Pakistan. Every night his hands are tied behind his back and he is blindfolded when a woman who tells him to call her Josephine visits the room where he is kept. She wants to know who will pay a ransom for his release. When it becomes clear that Marc is estranged from everyone he knows in the USA, she begins to demand that he tell her stories about his life, focusing on his daughter Claire, who at age 19 was murdered a month ago and Marc did not return to the USA for her funeral.

As Marc slowly reveals stories from his past, Josephine weaves tales about a future Claire at 34 years old. This Claire survived the attack, is married and has a daughter. She is traveling to Michigan to see her estranged father who is dying. On the way Claire picks up a hitchhiker named Genevieve, who makes up stories for Claire about Marc’s life after he divorced her mother.

This is a beautifully written novel that consists of a story made up of stories within stories that share common connections. The line between reality and story-telling blurs and what is real and what is fiction becomes unclear. The truth of Marc's situation may be less rewarding than the stories. The stories themselves become more real, more compelling, than reality. The stories are what develop the characters, real or imagined. The plot is the story telling - or the plots within the stories. It's all very consciously self-referential; I kept picturing an ouroboros while reading.

The writing is powerful and masterful - there is no fault to be found there. For some reason I bristled at being played with emotionally as Marc's reality stands in stark juxtaposition with the stories being crafted and so lovingly told. Sometimes it's okay if an author messes with my mind while I'm reading; sometimes it just begins to annoy me and feels like too much manipulation. I'm afraid that this time the set up for the story telling felt too contrived for me and, in view of current events, a bit insensitive and careless. It is clear from the start that Marc, a hostage who is surely going to be executed by these terrorists who are forcing him to tell stories, may find some comfort from the stories being told to him, but I can find no charm in this, no matter how exquisitely written. Yes, people and ideas can live on in stories, but stories don't negate the ugliness behind taking a person hostage to ransom them.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Flatiron Books.

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