Although it starts out seeming to present the portrait of a family, and the relations between siblings, Powers's second book is also out for bigger game: the nature and hidden traps of history. Teacher Eddie Hobson seems to have gone a little off his nut as well as developed a mysterious sickness; most puzzling to his wife and four kids, he labors ceaselessly on a secret project called Hobbstown, which he claims will save him, the world, and everything in it. Eventually the story opens out to include Walt Disney, Robert Oppenheimer, and the Japanese-American internment. The skilled narrative swings between Powers's early sassiness ("Great Scots, woman -- you'll get us all kilts") to genuine ache ("What we can't bring about in no way releases us from what we must").
This report prepared by David Loftus