John Haskell has been applauded for his skillful blending of fabulism and reality, as a man wanders the landscape of a changed environment in hopes discovering the nature of his dilemma, confusing both his physical senses and his sense of time.
Walking outside after a stop for snacks at a convenience store, the man is shocked to find that both his wife, Anne, and their vehicle are missing. His reaction is unusual, to say the least: he remains outside the gas station-convenience store waiting for her to return, certain she has driven away with some reasonable purpose.
After a few hours, when she doesnít answer either her cell phone or their home phone, he begins a journey on foot, intending to return home and wait for his wife there, his every action defined by reasonableness.
Here it is necessary for the reader to suspend judgment, following the protagonistís lead as he wends his way towards the inevitable. The manís actions make no sense in an ordinary context, but that is the point. He is engaged in an effort to control his environment and limit his reactions to the world around him.
From New Jersey to Brooklyn, abandoning their trip to visit Anneís mother in Nyack, New York, the man doesnít call his mother-in-law to tell her what has happened. Nor does he contact the police. It is as though the day is as normal as any other, save the fact that his wife is missing and he has no idea where she is or when she will return. Back at home, he watches television and goes to sleep.
The next morning, he continues in this disjointed manner with occasional emotional fits, judiciously monitoring himself. On the advice of a friend, he purchases a used car and sets out on a cross-country journey to recover his wife, using a map from her office that she has marked as a directional guide. Although he has difficulty connecting to those around him, he travels across the country in this manner, connecting to those around him with some difficulty but describing people and places with a sense of immediacy.
In American Purgatorio, the narrative abstract becomes existential meditation, an exploration of the seven deadly sins acted out through different characters, traversing difficult territory that requires the reader to trust where the writer is taking him. His fantasy tempered by fact, the protagonist clings to earth while his mind drifts elsewhere in pursuit of his loved one.
Barely anchored to reality, the main character manages to tap into the people and events around him, his goal coming inexorably closer with each place he stops. While there is not quite a mystery in this mystery, the novel is a remarkable travelogue of the American terrain and the human spirit, wherein one manís deception is another manís heartbreak, a memorable journey toward self-realization and the nature of the world as we perceive it.