SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Frederick Reiken's new novel might make you believe there's no such thing as a stranger. It opens in Florida in 1984, where Beverly Rabinowitz, a doctor born in Poland, who escaped the Holocaust, vacations with her boyfriend, David, who has cancer, and his son, Jordan, who knows it. They swim with manatees, who seem gentle and knowing.
But each step of the story gets a new narrator. Jordan takes over; then Tim, a tour guide and musician; then Dee, a singer; and then Jennifer, Beverly's daughter, as the action moves between Utah, New Jersey and Israel and snaps up an uncommon assortment of characters, including an FBI agent named Leopold, an Israeli soldier named Amman to remind us how seemingly unrelated lives can all come together in the net of a master storyteller.
Frederick Reiken, whose previous books include the highly acclaimed "Lost Legends of New Jersey," and is director of the graduate program in writing at Emerson College, joins us from WBUR in Boston.
Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. FREDERICK REIKEN (Author, "Day for Night"): Thank you, Scott. It's great to be here.
SIMON: So how do you explain this story? The early reviews - from like, Publisher's Weekly - have been just absolutely laudatory. But everybody's kind of stuck to explain the narrative.
MR. REIKEN: What I would say is that I structured this book around dual protagonists. The one being Beverly Rabinowitz, who is - her story is essentially the mystery of the fate of her father, Jonah Rabinowitz, and what may or may not have happened to him during the Holocaust.
The surprise character that came into this book - that I wasn't really planning on - was this Catherine Clay Goldman, who's almost an alter eagle alter eagle an alter ego or double, or maybe even doppelganger for Beverly. And she's this elusive, '60s-era radical. And I found...
SIMON: Guerrilla puppeteer.
MR. REIKEN: Yeah, and guerrilla puppeteer, among her many, various identities and names. I found that if I managed to touch on one or the other of these two mysteries - the mystery of Beverly's father or essentially, the mystery of Catherine Clay Goldman and who she might or might not be - it maintained the traction of the novel through the disparate narratives. So I guess you could ultimately say it's a book about connection and the way people are interconnected, whether they know it or not.
SIMON: In the center of the book, there's just the nicest little love story - in this unforgettable section set along the Dead Sea. Your narrator at that point, who's a veterinarian from western Massachusetts, goes to live in a kibbutz for her health.
MR. REIKEN: Yes.
SIMON: And she meets a blonde goy from Utah, who whisks her away on his motorcycle.
MR. REIKEN: That's the chapter that everything kind of turns on, because you've heard about the blonde goy in an earlier chapter.
SIMON: He's in a coma there. You meet him...
MR. REIKEN: He's - earlier...
SIMON: ...when he's in a coma.
MR. REIKEN: Right. You meet him when he's crashed his motorcycle, and you meet him. And then you, almost in a "Rashomon"-like way, go through the accident from the point of view of the veterinarian,Vicki, and you also then get the aftermath of that and how that story comes full circle and plays out, both in terms of Vicki's larger story and also how it connects back up with Beverly and with Catherine Clay Goldman.
SIMON: I wrote something down that just - when I finished the book, this just had me thinking ever since. One of your narrators writes - you write: I recognize that we are all magicians in some way. We are complicit in all we see, and comprehend that what we will see will never coincide with absolute reality. As a result, the human brain must make a narrative.
MR. REIKEN: Yeah. Well, no one reality is privileged. It can always shift when a larger or differing perspective is introduced. At the level of just the idea that we are all magicians in some way - we are. What is - I mean, we use a metaphorical version of sleight of hand all the time in our lives.
There's so much indirection in our lives. We will be thinking about something one way; some other current will hit us. Every now and then, you have one of these epiphanic moments where you actually do feel like everything is strangely aligned and you don't quite know why, but it's there. And it's there, I think, in the way that we do make narratives.
That's how we go about interpreting the world. I think while we process this way and make narratives to understand our lives, it's important not to get stuck in any one narrative. I think most of the biggest problems in the world come from people being stuck in a particular narrative, and being unwilling to see another point of view or acknowledge another belief system.
SIMON: Frederick Reiken, speaking from Boston. His new novel, "Day for Night." You can read an except from the book on our website, NPR.org.
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