Dee ( The Lover of History , LJ 11/1/90) probes our sense of morality, examining the tenets by which the average American lives; when those tenets are put to the test, he finds mostly confusion and indecision. Gene Trobridge, a successful advertising executive nearing retirement, lives an idyllic suburban existence insulated from the world's trouble spots. When Albert Ferdinand, Gene's neighbor and friend, is exposed as a Brazilian war criminal and threatened with deportation, trial, and probable execution, Gene ponders the questions of shame, remorse, and forgiveness. Meanwhile, the Immigration and Naturalization Service builds its case. Confronted with the need of making a moral judgment, Gene falters, unable to translate tenets into action. Dee's perception and assessment of human frailties are acute and thought-provoking; his style is beautiful in its understatement. Thoughtful readers will appreciate this second novel.-- Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Ill. Univ. Lib. at Carbondale
Although the high caliber of Dee's debut, "The Lover of History" , promised an impressive follow-up, his second novel, a masterfully subtle yet repercussive tale of moral lassitude, exceeds all expectations. The narrator, Gene, is a well-respected ad executive who lives in Belmont, Long Island, a bastion of comfort and conformity, with his quiet wife. His sixty-fifth birthday and retirement are fast approaching, making him feel unusually reflective and vulnerable. An abrasive encounter with a reporter seeking information about a reclusive neighbor further darkens Gene's frame of mind. It seems that Mr. Ferdinand, a somewhat formal gentleman seen primarily in the company of his dog, is suspected of being a Brazilian war criminal. Gene, oddly fascinated, ends up befriending Ferdinand, and is soon obsessed with questions of good and evil, revenge and betrayal, guilt and repentance. As Dee carefully unfurls this moral dilemma, he exposes life in middle-class America as almost subversively sheltered, ruled by the pursuit of ease and insularity, and driven by the pumped-up myths of advertising and sports. Dee's considerable literary skills and elegance of thought render these recognitions fresh and provocative and infuse the reader with an invigorating sense of discovery.
"Convincing, extraordinary....Like Rosellen Brown in her novel 'Before And After', Jonathan Dee devices a semmingly invaluable insoluble moral problem and compels his readers to consider what they might do in the same situations." -- Boston Sunday Globe
"Ever bit as mesmerizing and Kazuo Ishiguro's achievement in 'The Remains Of The Day'...A sublime and inventive tour de force." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
"'The Liberty Campaign' is a forceful, beautifully written book that is straightforward but never simple....This impressive book will leave you pondering its questions long after you've turned the last page." -- The Wall Street Journal
American Innocence revisited: a retiring adman's spiritual stock-taking acquires dramatic urgency when he learns that his suburban neighbor may be a war criminal. Gene Trowbridge is an advertising executive with a home on Long Island. The 64-year-old Gene is readying himself for retirement and adjustments in his long, loving marriage to wife Ellie when a reporter buttonholes him, asking questions about his reclusive neighbor Albert Ferdinand. His curiosity piqued, Gene befriends Ferdinand; pressed hard, Ferdinand concedes that he's the former Brazilian Army captain who (as the newspaper alleges) oversaw the torture of civilians in the 1960's. But Ferdinand insists that whatever wrong he did in the war against Communism is a private matter "between me and my God"; his task now is preparing for death and (hopefully) divine acceptance. All this is taxing for Gene, a decent but "morally undeveloped" man without a compass in this world of men who torture, and die, for their beliefs. As the authorities and human-rights activists close in, Ferdinand appeals to his friend for helpbut Gene finds himself paralyzed, unable to act. Gene works in a business where "our allegiances are always for sale"; he lives in the reflected glory of a son who is a major-league baseball player; and the story begins on the Fourth of July. While Dee may be pushing Gene's quintessentially American situation too hard, this spellbinding second novel (The Lover of History, 1990) reads like anything but schematic. With a true novelist's flair, the author forestalls our rush to judgment by making the reporter obnoxious and Ferdinand a figure of dignified pathos. Dee's graceful assumption of an older man'svoice, his mastery of an elegiac tone, is every bit as impressive as Ishiguro's achievement in The Remains of the Day.