When Anthony Bartolo, a successful product manager loses his high-powered job in New York, a turn of events propels him to post-war El Salvador and a head-on collision with cultural differences, leaving him in danger of losing his life – and his marriage – as he uncovers a secret about his friend nobody saw coming.
This is a big read, set in both New York’s well-to-do Hempstead crowd, going onto El Salvador. As Anthony discovers he is socially outcast from the industry that he had dedicated his life to, his wife and friends seems to disengage also, until he realizes not all of them are particularly happy or functional either.
What really shines out to the reader is Tritto’s knowledge of El Salvador. These passages stand head and shoulders in descriptive quality above all else. I wish in my heart of hearts this were more of a travel novel than it is, because this prose seems first-hand and really woven with beautiful detail – I could have done with even more detail at times – smells, colors and skies would have added to the reader’s experience. Tritto’s own sporty kayaking and biking detail also gives Anthony a solid back story.
There is something of Richard Yates to this masculine, set-straight American style – dinner parties are boring and seemingly old-fashioned. While on the surface I understood character relationships, at times I felt I was peering through a dirty mirror – I couldn’t quite grasp the way characters looked or sounded or how they interacted. At times some introspective detail is needed to round the character – I need to know more than the exact time on the clock and the series of tasks carried out by the character – I needed motivation. I did feel also that characters’ voices changed in terms of language and phrasing from time to time also.
Maybe the book could have started the adventure in El Salvador earlier. After all, this is the selling point of the story, and is the richest part of the novel. However, the stark contrast to his staid and plain life in New York really does underline the color and passion he finds in El Salvador.
The main issue lies in the presentation of the book itself. The cover really has no obvious relation to the book content, and the font and design is really off-putting. This font prevails inside also as headings and is one of those handwriting fonts that should never be used in literary fiction. It cheapens the book’s impact considerably, as does the interior layout, which has alignment issues and sometimes reverts from one font to another cheap looking font (Chapter 3 for example) – my feeling is this book really should be re-designed and formatted with a thorough edit and proof-read by a professional as there are also spelling and grammar issues – before being put on sale again, because this could damage the reputation of the author forcibly.
However, this is a good read and a page-turner, even if sometimes the characters seem a little flighty. I warmed to Anthony early on as he struggled with work, and sided with his seemingly overwrought attitude to others as they judged him unfairly in my opinion. So I was pleased to see him escape on his mission to El Salvador and was happy to see his misconceptions about his wife, friends, job and home life bear fruit later on in the book as he has an epiphany about the way he has been living, surrounded by gadgets instead of a family, and how he has been part of a very narrow-minded and entitled society.
An interesting and heart-warming read, which would make a good movie.