Monday, February 07, 2011

Book: Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann (2010)

It’s a rare pleasure, picking up a book and falling hard not only for a character but a voice. It happened to me with this blazing debut by Lisa Brackmann.

Ellie Cooper is a stranger in China and in plenty of ways a stranger to herself. A wounded veteran of the Iraq war, she married a fellow soldier in haste and followed him to Beijing when he took a job with a military contractor. As they skid toward divorce Ellie drifts along in a painkiller haze, cashing disability checks and hanging out with artists. At the home of one of her friends she meets a mysterious Uighur fugitive, and abruptly finds herself caught in a tangle of conspiracies involving industrialists, art dealers, and her soon-to-be-ex’s employer.

Brackmann’s story unfolds in locations real and virtual. There’s the arresting right-this-second material set in a China both prosaically familiar and deeply foreign, equal parts suburban sprawl and William Gibson futurescape. Woven into this are smartly judged Iraq flashbacks and whole sections that take place inside an online game beyond the reach of the Chinese authorities. The nods to Ellie’s religious background are also welcome; for all the talk of how faith infuses American life, there’s surprisingly little acknowledgement of the subject in fiction. Brackmann incorporates it beautifully.

The outcome dares to recognize that a single person can only see so much of the global picture and correspondingly do so little. But it’s the doing that counts. Above all there’s Ellie, fearful and tough. A terrific thriller from a talent to watch.