It is 2001 and the country is reeling from 9/11, none more so than Adam Kellas, who has just witnessed the grand scheme of his novel acted out in real life. His inspiration usurped by the highjackers, Kellas is in shock. Reluctantly, he accepts an assignment from a London newspaper, joining other journalists in Afghanistan, each claiming a small portion of America’s reaction to this terrible event.
Adam files his stories, scribbling his next novel in his downtime, buoyed by the success of poet/novelist Pat M’Gurgan, a writer of serious fiction. Both men are tempted to tap into a more lucrative market but held back by their mutual defense of quality work. Adam is in a state of flux, a watcher and a dreamer who stares at the horizon in lieu of living in the present. Forced to do so, he fixates on a female American journalist, Astrid Walsh, who waxes hot and cold toward Adam, ultimately abandoning him as he heads back home.
Adam is a man of his times, unable to make serious life commitments, idealizing the women he has fixated on over the years. They always disappoint, for Kellas is looking for answers in others, defining himself in relationship to their reactions.
In shifting chapters that move back and forth in time, we view Adam through a changing perspective: as a war correspondent unable to connect to the others, an object of snide humor; as a friend among contemporaries, too blunt, too needy, never quite able to inhabit a cohesive self (“Love. Oh, Adam. You’re just not qualified to use the word.”); in relationships, defining himself by the women he chooses; and as a writer, always discontent, unable to summon adequate self-worth without a successful novel.
To be sure, Kellas is unhappy, angry and disillusioned, a man without roots sustained by expectations that never materialize and always disappoint: “Men started out looking for love and ended up looking for dignity.”
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent is a novel freighted with isolation and disappointment, its protagonist faced with hard truths about his life and the women who never measure up. Perhaps the nature of his work dictates a constant discontent, although his troubles seem more deeply entrenched in his profoundly distorted sense of self. As a journalist/novelist, Adam will never know contentment - it is against the nature of his quest.
And he exists in a chaotic world where relationships are tenuous at best. In the end, Adam cuts a swath of destruction, flailing against his friends. His romantic wounds once more cauterized, Kellas chooses next a sojourn in the Middle Kingdom, Iraq, yet another step on a lonely road in a world chronically unable to make peace.