It doesn't help that Eakins is a third-rate Kafka with the ethical compass of Hannibal Lecter. A "whoremonger" of "Churchillian brio and Falstaffian appetites" with an impressive criminal record (murder, theft, et al.), Eakins is probably the last person in the world with whom Sonia should consort. But by the time Eugene reaches Eakins's mountain retreat in the Alps—imagine Yaddo with a dash of Jonestown—and steals Sonia from his clutches, the plot has collapsed under the weight of its many unfocused ambitions.
Dale Peck once called Rick Moody the worst writer of his generation for squandering his literary talents; Gessen and Rich aren't nearly as skilled, but their debuts are disappointments in a similar sense. The products of elite universities, and both editors at prestigious publications, they could have pioneered a new path for the rising generation of writers. Instead, they have chosen safe formulas whose faded pyrotechnics disguise a serious deficiency of what, in an earlier age, used to be called soul.