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‘Trying’ Succeeds in Depicting D.C.

This isn’t the book Rebecca Gale thought she was going to write.

“Trying,” the CQ Roll Call staffer’s first published novel, is tagged as “some kind of love story.” A love story is where Gale might have started, but it’s also a technical and paranormal thriller.

So it’s not just a love story. Nor is it pure science-fiction, although there are sci-fi elements. In general, it is more fantastic-realism and slightly reminiscent of Aimee Bender’s work.

This genre creates a world recognizable to the modern reader, except for one or two aspects that change the rules. In Bender’s work, one character can taste the emotion in every bite of food, while another watches as her boyfriend evolves backward, from man to amoeba.

Gale’s work is less surreal and grounded in a very accurately mapped D.C., and the action pivots around Knowledge, a secret government contractor peddling a class of information that is radioactive. Mandy, a recent college graduate, is madly in love with her boyfriend, Cal. The couple is new to the city, and Mandy is clueless about the dangers of Cal’s work. Cal is an obsessive Knowledge analyst who can’t slurp the radioactive Kool-Aid fast enough.

Then there is M.J., a Knowledge employee tasked with baby-sitting Cal. The novel’s voice is strongest when Gale chronicles Mandy’s journey from naive transplant to wiser woman. Gale understands how closely people peg their identities to their jobs. Only M.J., who is a bit older than the other two characters, seems to struggle, however unsuccessfully, to develop an identity apart from his work.

The novel’s chapters are written in first person, with characters rotating as narrator. Mandy and M.J. might switch on and off, but then Mandy might narrate several chapters in a row, breaking the narrative rhythm.

The Washington that Gale creates, though, is one that manages to look recognizable and not nearly as remote as the plot would initially suggest.

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