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A couple years ago, then-Arts Editor Mark Athitakis wrote this cover story, in which he mused on why there has never been a Great American Novel set in D.C. He wrote: “In the same way that Tom Wolfe’s and Ralph Ellison’s fictional New York wasn’t just skyscrapers and immigrants, and Walker Percy’s and John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans wasn’t just jazz and gumbo, the city of D.C. fiction ought to contain multitudes—the strivers, the palace intrigues, the crime, the ongoing conversation about race, immigration, and gentrification. Instead, we get a lot of bulky Fed-driven tomes.”
When Athitakis wrote “Building the Great D.C. Novel,” he more or less guaranteed that flacks hawking novels set in the District would take it upon themselves to prove him wrong. Now that I have his old job, they’re hitting me up. One writes:
For years, there has been a call for a “DC novel.” Indeed, Mark Athitakis wrote about it for your paper. A GEOGRAPHY OF SECRETS just might be that novel. It is most certainly a novel of our time, a nuanced, gripping story reminiscent of Graham Greene. It is Frederick Reuss at the height of his powers.
Except that D.C.-based author Frederick Reuss isn’t building a great D.C. novel: He’s honing in on it via GPS. “Each chapter begins with GPS coordinates,” reads a parenthetical in the press release. “Readers can plug the numbers in to GoogleEarth to see the places about which Reuss writes.” It’s a story about two men—-one who works for a government agency, the other whose father was likely a spy. As you may have guessed, they have secrets! Many, many secrets.
I haven’t read A Geography of Secrets, but don’t be surprised to see a review of it in our pages around when the book comes out this fall. Somehow, though, I doubt this is a book that contains the multitudes Athitakis was looking for—-spies rarely go east of the river.
Oh and hey! There’s another new novel set in D.C.—-Sam Munson‘s The November Criminals, a nominal mystery with a Holden Caulfield-like protagonist set to the backdrop of the 1997 triple murder in a Starbucks in Georgetown. Writing in the Washington Post in April, critic Michael Lindgren wasn’t impressed, mostly because he found the protagonist too unlikeable:
The many — and many deeply silly — parsings of “The Catcher in the Rye” that accompanied Salinger’s recent death reminded us that for every half-dozen turbulent adolescents who found in Holden a deeply satisfying alter ego, there were one or two who thought him an insufferable ass. The same ratio may operate on “The November Criminals,” and you can put this 42-year-old adolescent in the second category.