A SINGLE QUESTION POPS into my mind upon finishing Theory of Remainders by Northfield, (MN.), author Scott Dominic Carpenter. How did he come up with the ideas for this creatively complex literary novel about a Boston psychiatrist who returns to France nearly 15 years after his teenage daughter’s murder?
This adept writer uses language as a primary tool in the telling of this story, taking the reader deep into a French village where Philip Adler searches for answers related to Sophie’s disappearance. Carpenter’s astuteness to the nuances of language, his use of word play and his command of several languages riddle this novel. And, yes, the word “riddle” is a deliberate word choice.
“Graves were always a presence pointing to an absence…” Carpenter writes early on. Later, he pens these memorable statements: “Things don’t ever square up. In short, the world is not tidy, by which I mean that there are no equations without remainders.”
Unlike other books centered by a mystery, Theory of Remainders challenged me to examine words, to puzzle through conversations and scenes, to rely on the thought process rather than tangible evidence. That engagement of the reader sets this novel apart.
Nothing, really, is at it seems in this can’t-put-down compelling read.
That’s a credit to an author who clearly understands the depth of the human psyche and how that affects love and relationships, guilt and regret, the past and the present.
This story goes beyond one man’s search to settle his past. It is about those he loves/loved, a place he lived, complicated relationships, animosity, secrets, personal weaknesses and so much more.
A strong sense of place, such as “villages that sat like beads on a rosary,” the intertwining of history into the plot, multifaceted characters and more meld to create the tension that weaves through this novel.
Carpenter masters impressive visuals with similes like these: “Memories nuzzled at his mind’s gate like kenneled dogs” and “The silhouette of an idea flitted like a sylph through the shadows.” Reading his writing is a literary pleasure.
I can almost visualize Carpenter, when writing Theory of Remainders, placing strategic dots upon paper and then challenging the reader to connect those dots. Once the connected dots reveal a picture, the reader is left wondering how this gifted writer developed such a multi-layered and truly exceptional novel.
For anyone who values a literary novel of substantial depth in character development, language, sense of place and reader engagement, Theory of Remainders ranks as a must-read.
If Scott Dominic Carpenter’s name rings familiar with you here, it’s because I previously reviewed his collection of short stories, This Jealous Earth. You can read that review by clicking here.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling