We gave it a B+
”Dark hair and lots of it, heavy brows, sharp features, dark eyes, dark circles under the eyes, dark looks about the room, at the maitre d’, the waitress, the trolley laden with rich desserts…” So begins Valerie Martin’s bracing new novel, Trespass, as middle-aged Chloe Dale, sitting in a pricey Manhattan restaurant, first spots her 21-year-old son’s new girlfriend. Is it clear enough from that first sentence that Chloe dislikes Salome Drago, a Croatian-American hottie, instantly and viscerally? That her distaste is connected to something ”dark” in the young woman’s appearance?
Chloe may be right to distrust the slippery Salome — or Chloe may be bigoted and unfair. The reliably provocative Martin leaves her judgments of Salome, Chloe, and most of her other characters tantalizingly ambiguous. What begins as a catty domestic melodrama quickly broadens into a searching meditation on the limits of American inclusiveness, everyday xenophobia, and xenophobia taken to its genocidal extreme. Martin splices in the harrowing first-person account of Salome’s mother, Jelena, during the Balkan crisis of the 1990s. (A grotesquely magnified version of the ethnically tinged animosity between Chloe and Salome?) But while Jelena’s experiences make for brutal reading, she is never forced into the dreary role of ”innocent victim”; she remains from start to finish a multifaceted, if deeply unfortunate, character. Martin forces through a couple of heavy-handed plot twists, but this is a novel you read with sharp attention, both to the important questions it asks and to the complicated answers it offers. B+