A Geography of Secrets: A Novel by Frederick Reuss (Unbridled Books; $25.95; 288 pages)
“Secrets don’t keep, they putrefy.”
A lush, other-worldly feel permeates this philosophical novel based in Washington, D.C. Author Frederick Reuss presents two tales that portray the human toll paid by the families of those who work in the shadows where espionage is practiced. The first-person narrator of the initial tale is the adult son of a recently deceased former CIA operative. The reader is not advised of the son’s name although everyone else in the chapters devoted to him are clearly named and fully developed as characters.
The son is an old-school style cartographer who experiences life through the methodology of his work. He engages physically with the area he is mapping in order to infuse the end product with authenticity. The son and his mother are easily recognizable as collateral damage created by his father’s activities in the Foreign Service. The mother was jettisoned from her marriage and replaced by other women while the son is left with the sense of never really knowing who his father was.
The second tale is told in the third-person. The primary character is a technical wizard/spy named Noel Leonard who works for a top-secret government agency. Noel gathers information about the activities of the enemy de jour using satellite technology and super sensitive spy cameras. This information is used to plot bombing attacks. His only passion in life is golf and he excels at it, primarily because he is an expert at judging the trajectory of objects. Noel’s wife and daughter are kept in the dark about just what he does at the office which creates difficulties for all of them.
Each of the characters is seeking to throw light on the secrets that have made a huge impact on their lives. Their searches take them to Switzerland, the son for his father’s funeral and Noel for an information-sharing conference. Noel longs to blurt out the truth of his profession in order to clear the air and connect with his family. The irony was not lost on this reviewer that it is in Switzerland, a neutral country, that they find key elements of their quest.
Both of the men convey a sense of invisibleness, a holding back, rather than surging forward. Neither of them seeks out people or participates in group activities. They are observers – watchers – rather than front line participants in life. Their searches for connectedness to family and place are often derailed by purposeful withdrawal. The sense of their invisibleness is heightened by the way they recede to the edges of the action in life. The son and Noel are infused with a strong sense of distrust, or maybe anxiety about sharing their innermost selves with others. The two men repeatedly approach and dance away from the secondary characters.
Author Reuss allows his tales to meander rather than dragging the reader along on a chase. He is extremely skillful at describing the essence of Washington D.C. which is full of historic meaning, vast institutions and seats of power. It is there that people become ants swallowed up by the workings of government.
These are unique and well drawn tales. Thought provoking. Highly recommended.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.