The rabbit holes in this book have to do with Jules Gund, a writer who has been dead for several years. The son of wealthy Jews who fled Germany just before World War II, Gund grew up on Ochos Rios, an estate in Uruguay, wrote an acclaimed novel and then, according to one character, "spent twenty miserable years trying to do it again, and failing over and over," until he finally walked into the woods to shoot himself. Gund has left behind, in his family's remote manse, a wife, Caroline, a mistress, Arden, and an 8-year-old daughter, and his elderly brother Adam who lives with his younger lover, Pete.
They are the executors of Jules' estate and guardians of his fading reputation, so it's to them that a doctoral student from the University of Kansas appeals, requesting authorization to write a biography. They tell him no, but the student, one Omar Razaghi, has gotten himself into a complicated fix and shows up at their door to plead his case. It's a scenario that echoes Henry James' "The Aspen Papers," only in this version the impressionable naif is Omar, the literary acolyte, and instead of serving the cold-blooded cult of Art he finds himself waylaid by unruly emotions.
What this involves is conversation, some of the best dialogue to be found in any novel published in a long time, whether it's Adam's remarks ("There is something a little pathetic about winding up old and beautiful and charming, I think; it indicates, to me at least, a waste of resources, or at the very least a serious misappropriation of them") or Caroline's implacable frankness ("I have noticed this: this hesitation to speak about anything outside of one's field. This caution.How boring it makes everything"). Even the less formidable characters emerge effortlessly whole in the course of a few pages; after a single telephone conversation between Omar and Dierdre, his nudging girlfriend, it's possible to chart the entire arc of their relationship.
This is an amusing quadrille of shifting allegiances, indiscretions, and gambits, but as Adam observes, "It has been my experience that sooner or later things always get messy or dangerous." Cameron is a writer of strange and sneaky allure; he can tell you more by not telling you something that ought to be humanly, or at least artistically, possible. "City of Your Final Destination," transpires like a dream and ends on an unexpected grace note. It's a generous book with just enough shadows to hint at the mysterious territory that lies beneath its surface.
We cannot engineer our own happiness, Cameron suggests here with terrific subtlety, for love has a way of taking us on unexpected detours. That, after all, is how this curious coterie of souls wound up displaced in Uruguay. Cameron develops his theme with a gentle hand, and in so doing, he draws this book to one of the most satisfying denouements in my recent (airport waiting lounge) reading memory.