In the face of yuppies' plans and transients' dreams, the poor and affluent alike strive for change while Boston's Central Square finds its own purpose for them all. Any big city offers its inhabitants both magic and mayhem. For Joe, the magic lies in mistaken identity that confers on him privileges he cultivates to both his shame and advantage. Originally from California, Joe is mistaken for African when he returns to the United States from a trip. He tells stories of shapeshifters and magic spells, which make him a celebrity, a savior among city dwellers desperately seeking meaning. Joe soon becomes an icon of the Community, a group that advocates a haphazard mixture of therapy and activism to thwart inner-city depersonalization.
Meanwhile, Paula Voorhees, a social worker-therapist, and Eric Barnes, a very married writer with a pregnant wife, meet and fall almost instantly in love. Eventually, the lives of these three characters converge in a welter of lies and guilt tinged with a prospect for healing. The magic in George Packer's novel lies in his ability to discuss the ethics of socialization and socializing without moralizing the characters into an easy closure. --Susan Swartwout
From Publishers Weekly
It is Cambridge, Mass., in November, when "the sky turns leaden and the clocks have been set back, the larger body dies and the idea of the city becomes a memory, an accident of warm weather." Into the Central Square of this hauntingly rendered hibernal wasteland, Packer (The Village of Waiting; The Half Man) leads four characters: Joe Amouzou, a black American who, returning from a year's stint in Africa, fakes an identity as an African magician and finds, to his own amazement, a surge of power in the disguise; Eric Barnes, a 37-year-old novelist in danger of being dropped from his publishing house for insufficient sales; his pregnant wife, Jane, whom Eric feels is too obsessed with the child in her womb; and Paula Vorhees, the classic other woman who hates the stereotype?she's 30, single, a therapist at loose ends. The affair between Eric and Paula endures for the space of a winter month, until Jane discovers it. In the meantime, Joe is becoming involved, almost unwittingly, with a local grassroots organization run by Paula's unctuous boss. Packer has a good feel for the sunlight-deficient lives of a typical New England winter, but the novel is more than a few deft portraits of selected urban existences. It is a graceful meditation on the moral longing and often doomed effort that go into reinventing oneself.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.