Charles Baxter's latest novel, The Soul Thief, is a winding tale of ambiguous narratives and character identity. It opens as Nathaniel Mason, a graduate student living in Buffalo, New York, finds himself longing for things he can't have: There's the impenetrable Theresa, an ironic ice princess who finds monogamy unfashionable, and Jamie, an artist who can never fully return Nathaniel's affections because she's, well, gay. Things are further complicated by Jerome Coolberg, a man who may be in love with Nathaniel, or at least in love with appropriating his identity. After a disorienting whirlwind leading up to a complete breakdown, Nathaniel finds himself 30 years later married and living a domesticated life with a wife and two sons. Nathaniel's world threatens to rip apart again when Coolberg casually reappears with a simple call and request. Uncertain identity is the real tension-builder here, and Baxter adeptly plays with the slipperiness of personae and reality, from public perceptions of celebrities to individual perceptions of self.
Thu., Feb. 28, 7 p.m., 2008