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A troubled couple search for their missing son and elusive truths in Hari Kunzru's desert-set novel
Gods Without Men
by Hari Kunzru
$26.95 List Price
Looming in the background of Hari Kunzru’s novel Gods Without Men are the Pinnacle Rocks, presumably modeled on California’s Trona Pinnacles, stone formations climbing from the bed of a dry lake in Death Valley and familiar to both hikers and couch potatoes (the spires regularly appear in television programs and car commercials). From its encampment near the site, Gods Without Men sweeps back and forth through time—from the deliberately anachronistic “time when the animals were men” to the present day, coming to rest at several points in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
At the foreground is the twenty-first- century story of Jaz Matharu, a first-generation American Sikh, and his wife, Lisa, a thoroughly assimilated Jewish girl from Long Island. The mix poses some tricky problems, but Jaz and Lisa have pretty successfully insulated themselves from them, mostly with money: Jaz, an MIT-trained mathematician, makes a lot of it working on Wall Street. But the burden of caring for their profoundly autistic four-year-old son, Raj, has strained the marriage and widened cultural divides between the two that have never been completely bridged. And now Jaz is having career-jeopardizing moral misgivings about “Walter,” the Baudrillardian, possibly sentient trading model that he has been helping to develop at work and that may be causing the chaos erupting in world financial markets. During a kind of emergency vacation in California, the troubled family stops at a motel near the Pinnacles. Jaz and Lisa argue. Lisa disappears overnight.