“The Destroyers,” Christopher Bollen’s latest book, is a thriller that takes place on the Greek island of Patmos, where the Book of Revelations is thought to have been composed in a cave.
Bollen shrewdly shrugs off Greece’s potentially suffocating history in favor of irreverent American takes. “Patmos,” one character announces at the start, “was a wheeze of color: bleach-blond dust, scrub brush of wiry green, the wet-metal shine of water and low rock walls blooming sinus pinks.”
Chief among this book’s pleasures are the crisp, clear-eyed registrations of Greece that seem to trip off Bollen’s fingertips at will. Writing about a hillside: “Somewhere in the dim braid of olive and oleander trees, goat bells clang forlornly, as if by a hand that has given up expecting anyone to answer.”
On swimming in the Aegean: “We tilt and glide along the water, gas-flame blue, the blue of a June sky back home with the prickling sweat of a summer starting up, the pure anxious blue around us, deep and see-through and sliced with fish.”
The remote coves and beaches of Patmos are dazzling, and family servants oversee luncheons of fresh sea urchin and champagne on the decks of yachts.
But the main character Ian’s enjoyment of this ease and elegance is undermined by his moral queasiness and worry about his future, along with the constant messages he receives from his petty step-siblings, who have discovered the unauthorized withdrawal he made from the family emergency fund after their father died.
Behind the port town, the working-class quarters are squalid and overcrowded, and in the famous ancient monastery — “like a cruise ship moored on a mountaintop” — the monks are as corrupt as anyone.
Then there are the waves of Syrian immigrants washing up in rubber rafts and straining the already-strained resources of a bankrupt Greece.
Ian sees in the refugees an opportunity to do good, but his attempts to help fall short or backfire, as when he impulsively offers 20 euros to a boy in a refugee camp, attracting the attention of desperate men who clamor for a handout of their own until converged upon by baton-swinging guards, causing Ian to withdraw the bill before he can hand it to the boy. The best he can do is give vague directions to a wary, half-drowned Syrian couple he encounters on the beach.
The novel’s motto could almost have come from Sophocles: “Youth, which the gods adore, dies at 29.”
Source: NY Times