by Alex Garland
Two years ago, Alex Garland published his first novel, The Beach, a disturbing gen-X update of Lord of the Flies. It won raves and is being made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio
. His second novel is no less ambitious. As an English sailor who has mistakenly shot a mob boss flees through the streets of Manila, Garland focuses on a series of city dwellers: a troubled mother raising a mysteriously scarred child, a street urchin unable to recall how he was orphaned, a lonely man haunted by a suicide. The narrative shifts among some dozen characters, bringing them together thematically (all share a history of loss) and—in a terrible, inevitable instant—physically.
The Tesseract (the title is defined in the text, unhelpfully, as "a four-dimensional object—a hypercube—unraveled") examines how easily the connections between people can be broken. But Garland's skill at creating tension keeps the novel driving forward with the force of a thriller. While it lacks the shock value of The Beach, it proves that Garland's first wave of success was no fluke. (River-head, $24.95)
Bottom Line: No day at the Beach, but mature, intelligent and rewarding