Chuck is dead. The rest is flashback. Hans van den Broek is from Holland, but lives in New York City circa 9/11 with his British wife. He is a successful equities trader with plenty of money, and an abiding love for cricket. After 9/11 his wife returns to London with their child, leaving not only New York, but her husband. Lonely and a bit lost, Hans gets involved playing cricket, forming a family for himself, a community at least.
O’Neill writes about cricket at the same level of expertise that a super fan might write about baseball. It is warming, if a bit confusing. It is during a heavily contested match that Hans encounters Chuck, one of the game umpires. They form a lovely friendship, one that helps Hans during times of emotional need.
There is a lot about belonging in this book, feelings for place, whether Holland, New York, London. O’Neill does a masterful job of describing parts of New York that are very familiar to me, but may seem more than ordinary for the non-native. His DMV scene is incredibly true to life, not only his physical description, but the tone of the workers, the whole ambience and Kafka-esque mentality.
This is not a 9/11 book, per se, but he captures the bewilderment that wafted through the air of the city like the reek of the lower Manhattan months-long charnel house fires. There are several characters I found very engaging, the angel in particular, an oddball living at the Chelsea Hotel, Chuck’s wife Ann, his girlfriend Eliza, Chuck’s partner.
It was a satisfying read. My only real issue was that I was not entirely convinced about why Rachel decided to move back to the mother country. She did say that she was afraid of another attack in New York, and felt safer in London, but it seemed that there should have been more to it, at least more to it that was explained to the reader. A small quibble. This is a very nice book about belonging, relationships, men and women, place. Not jump up and down and scream wonderful, but satisfying like a large, well-cooked meal.