Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - by Danielle Trus­soni, Vik­ing, 452 pages — Jen­nifer Levin

At the be­gin­ning of cre­ation, an­gels were sent to Earth to watch over man. But the Watch­ers, as they were known, were tempted by the flesh of hu­man women. They mated and pro­duced hu­man-an­gel hy­brids called Nephilim. Over thou­sands of years, the Nephilim in­te­grated into the up­per-most ech­e­lons of in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety and, us­ing their un­earthly beauty, power, and 500-year life-spans, they have been at least par­tially re­spon­si­ble for most of the world’s ills, in­clud­ing the Holo­caust.

This is the premise of the de­but novel by Danielle Trus­soni, whose mem­oir, Fall­ing Through the Earth, was se­lected as one of the 10 best books of 2006 by

The New York Times. I ad­mit, I have never be­fore read any fan­tasy-thriller fic­tion. Though I love a good mys­tery or even a time-travel tale, I pre­fer lit­er­a­ture firmly grounded on Earth and am ut­terly un­fa­mil­iar with the con­ven­tions of this book’s par­tic­u­lar genre, which in­ter­net re­search in­forms me is an archival or the­o­log­i­cal thriller. Also, I have zero re­li­gious knowl­edge. I don’t ac­tu­ally know where the Bi­ble or the Apoc­rypha end and An­gelol­ogy be­gins. And with that, let’s turn to plot.

The Nephilim revel in mak­ing man the en­emy of man, dis­tract­ing lowly hu­mans from the truth of ex­is­tence, and per­haps God’s love, by cre­at­ing false di­chotomies and mean­ing­less ar­gu­ments. Nephilim are re­spon­si­ble for the con­tem­po­rary di­vide be­tween God and sci­ence, as well as re­li­gious ex­trem­ism in the name of tra­di­tion and so­cial-sex­ual de­bauch­ery in the name of progress. En­ter the An­gelol­o­gists, mem­bers of an in­ter­na­tional coun­cil of aca­demics who teach stu­dents about the su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings and fight against the present-day in­flu­ence of the Nephilim. The dis­ci­pline is at once schol­arly and in­tu­itive, sa­cred and pro­fane. The group also bears a pass­ing re­sem­blance to the mob be­cause, well — once an An­gelol­o­gist, al­ways an An­gelol­o­gist. Some Nephilim have be­gun to suf­fer a painful wast­ing dis­ease, thought to be brought on by hu­manstyle glut­tony and ex­cess. It is be­lieved that only the An­gelol­o­gists might know the se­cret hid­ing place of a heaven-sent lyre, an in­stru­ment pow­er­ful enough to re­store the ail­ing Nephilim to their full glory.

The present-day story of An­gelol­ogy is set in the week lead­ing up to Christ­mas, 1999. Evan­ge­line is a 23-year-old nun who has been liv­ing at St. Rose Con­vent, in Mil­ton, New York, since she was given to the nuns by her fa­ther at age 12. She meets Ver­laine, an art-his­tory grad­u­ate stu­dent on the trail of some poorly doc­u­mented cor­re­spon­dence be­tween a for­mer mother su­pe­rior and the fo­cus of his re­search, phi­lan­thropist Abi­gail Rock­e­feller. Within the story is a lengthy, im­por­tant flash­back to Paris, set be­tween 1939 and 1943, in which the main play­ers are Evan­ge­line’s grand­mother, Gabriella Lévi-Franche, and Ce­les­tine Clo­chette, an el­derly nun at St. Rose in 1999. The two are teenage an­gelol­ogy schol­ars — ri­vals and room­mates — men­tored by renowned An­gelol­o­gists Dr. Seraphina and Dr. Raphael Valko. Per­ci­val Grig­ori, son of a pow­er­ful Nephilis­tic fam­ily and Ver­laine’s mys­te­ri­ous em­ployer, rep­re­sents the dark forces.

The themes pre­sented in this novel are thrilling: in­tel­lec­tual in­quiry ver­sus re­li­gious doc­trine, tra­di­tion ver­sus progress, love ver­sus duty, good ver­sus evil. For the book’s first half, which re­ally func­tions as a back story and as a primer for the study of an­gels, I was en­tranced by the con­tem­pla­tive and some­times ex­otic worlds of the char­ac­ters. The in­tel­lec­tual ri­valry be­tween Gabriella and Ce­leste is es­pe­cially se­duc­tive, set as it is against the de­pri­va­tion and riches of wartime Paris. Un­for­tu­nately, as the story builds to­ward real ac­tion, the writ­ing and the pac­ing suf­fer.

Trus­soni’s de­scrip­tive pow­ers are strong­est when ap­plied to ar­chi­tec­ture and an­tiq­uity, weak­est when ap­plied to hu­man emo­tions and phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions. Peo­ple are for­ever speak­ing softly; fresh air is in­vari­ably de­li­cious. Though there is some com­pe­tent and even pretty prose, there are also true clunkers: “The sight was so ter­ri­ble that Evan­ge­line caught her breath at the sight of it.” There is a sense that the book was rushed through pro­duc­tion; at 452 pages, per­haps the fi­nal re­sult would have ben­e­fited from an­other round or two of ed­its. Given that movie rights were sold to Will Smith be­fore the book was even re­leased, I can’t help but won­der if Trus­soni con­fused her medi­ums in her haste to meet dead­lines. The last third of the book should have had me ig­nor­ing real-world re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in fa­vor of find­ing out what hap­pens next, but in­stead I was bored by car chases, a ten­sion­less, fore­see­able trea­sure hunt, and a love story so clum­sily in­flicted upon the nar­ra­tive that it seems to have been writ­ten by some­one else.

Though I won’t be giv­ing away the pre­dictable sur­prise-twist end­ing, I will say that, in the last five or 10 pages, the cam­era pans back. The ac­tion slows. Cer­tain truths are re­vealed. and char­ac­ters make ut­terly un­be­liev­able as­sump­tions about them­selves, one an­other, and the world. The fi­nal shot is a per­fect setup, prac­ti­cally writ­ten in the sky: Hello Se­quel.

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