I just finished Lee Zacharias’ amazing novel “At Random”. Once I started the book, I could not put it down.
“At Random” is the work of a mature, masterful, very brave writer in her prime.
In an era when most books are either plot driven or character driven, it is increasingly rare to find a book that is both. The extremely well-developed characters haunt you. The plot engages you and pulls you deeper and deeper into the book and its characters until you can’t wait to see what is going to happen to these complex, flawed people. You really care how they are going to react to and survive the impacts of “random” events on their lives.
So much is going on in this book on so many levels, but it is so masterfully told you never feel overwhelmed. There is a brilliantly, subtly drawn portrait of a marriage under stress. There is an evocative illustration of how tenuous the hold can be on middle class American lifestyles. The book forcefully illustrates how unexpected events can expose the frailty and fluidity of class distinctions. The book masterfully shows how these unexpected events can force us out of our bubbles and force us to reexamine our lives when we least expect or want to do so. The book brilliantly shows how American institutions, laws and the system can so easily fail at so many critical points and how these failures have real impacts on real people. There are contrasts and comparisons between these middle class Americans and the poor Montagnard refugees and how broken promises and societal expectations impact each group. There is biting, subversive study of how casual friendships fail under stress and how people try to find real connections to each other. There is a trough line theme of growing awareness of how fragile our hold is on so many aspects of our lives.
This is not a comfortable book, but it is a brave, intriguing, and haunting book. It is technically flawless, beautifully written, brilliantly plotted and emotionally engaging- sometimes to the point of discomfort. But, then, that’s what makes it a masterfully executed book of literary fiction and not your average cozy or escapist plot driven entertainment.
Please take the time to read this book. I promise, you will not regret it.