By Sara Davis
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
on March 2, 2021
N is employed at a prestigious California university, where he has distinguished himself as an aloof and somewhat eccentric presence. His meticulous, ordered life is violently disrupted by the death of his estranged father--unanticipated and, as it increasingly seems to N, surrounded by murky circumstances. His investigation leads him to a hotel built over a former Spanish mission, a site with a dark power and secrets all its own. On campus, a chance meeting with a young doctor provokes uncomfortable feelings on the direction of his life, and N begins to have vivid, almost hallucinatory daydreams about the year he spent in Ottawa, and a shameful episode from his past.
Meanwhile, a shadowy group of fringe academics surfaces in relation to his father's death. Their preoccupation with a grim chapter in California's history runs like a surreal parallel to the staid world of academic life, where N's relations with his colleagues grow more and more hostile. As he comes closer to the heart of the mystery, his ability to distinguish between delusion and reality begins to erode, and he is forced to confront disturbing truths about himself: his irrational antagonism toward a young female graduate student, certain libidinal impulses, and a capacity for violence. Is he the author of his own investigation? Or is he the unwitting puppet of a larger conspiracy?
With this inventive, devilish debut, saturated with unexpected wit and romanticism, Sara Davis probes the borders between reality and delusion, intimacy and solitude, revenge and justice. The Scapegoat exposes the surreal lingering behind the mundane, the forgotten history underfoot, and the insanity just around the corner.
This is a book that I feel like defies a straight-forward description or review. I still have so many questions now that I’ve finished reading, but I could not put it down.
I went into this with an expectation that it was a fairly straightforward story, but it absolutely was not. And thankfully, this is one of those cases where my expectations had no bearing on my enjoyment. This wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, I loved it.
There was definitely a dreamy, surreal quality to the writing and I really enjoyed puzzling over what I thought was going on. I was fully absorbed in whatever was happening here, and wish I had re-read parts of it before I returned it to the library.
This is a really intriguing, spirally, confusing read and I really enjoyed it – even if I couldn’t exactly tell you what it was all about!