From the get-go, Whiting Award-winner Lisa Halliday signals that the world of her first novel, Asymmetry, will be more like that found behind Lewis Carroll's looking glass than the more prosaic one in front of it. Young editor Alice Dodge is sitting on a New York City park bench trying to read a dense book when Ezra, a famous novelist 50 years her senior, sits down beside her. She is drawn by his fame and conversational flair. From there, the novel takes off into a literary love affair.
Then, as if slipping through that looking glass, the novel shifts to the story of Amar Jaafari, the son of California immigrants from Iraq. He is trapped in customs detention at Heathrow trying to prove he is neither a threat nor a deadbeat. In recounting his relationships with family, faith and Iraqi origins, his story dips into the miasma of Iraq's post-Saddam politics and upheaval.
Despite its disparate pair of stories, Asymmetry adeptly concludes in a short coda interview with Ezra after he finally wins a Nobel Prize. He opines: "It is human nature to try to impose order and form on even the most defiantly chaotic and amorphous stuff of life.... Some of us wage war. Others write books." Deftly combining two stories that are distinctive in style and content, Asymmetry is a stellar piece of writing and a bold debut. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.