"We are all magicians," says one of Frederick Reiken's characters in his new novel, Day for Night. "What we see will never coincide with absolute reality. As a result, the human brain must make a narrative."
Day for Night is full of narratives and narrators — nearly a dozen characters from all over the U.S. and the Middle East help tell this interwoven story.
"No one reality is privileged," Reiken tells NPR's Scott Simon. "It can always shift when a larger or differing perspective is introduced."
The novel opens in Florida in 1984, where Beverly Rabinowitz, a Polish doctor who escaped the Holocaust, vacations with her boyfriend, David, and his son, Jordan.
Each step of the story comes with a new narrator, as the action moves among Utah, New Jersey and Israel. It snaps up an uncommon assortment of characters, including an FBI agent and an Israeli soldier, who remind us how seemingly unrelated lives can all come together in the net of a master storyteller.
"It's a book about connection and the way people are interconnected, whether they know it or not," Reiken says.
The book is structured around "dual protagonists," he explains. There's Beverly, the Holocaust survivor, and Catherine Clay Goldman, a '60s-era radical — Beverly's alter ego. Reiken says he "maintained the traction of the novel" by connecting the many varied narratives back to the lives of these two women.
In addition to having many narrators and locations, the novel is full of details about disparate topics — from manatees to the soil of the Dead Sea to the history of the Holocaust — a research challenge for any author.
"Some of the subject matter arises from my own experience," Reiken explains, though he says the book is not autobiographical. Just after college, Reiken worked as a wildlife field technician in the southern Negev desert. (He was studying the Persian onager, a species of wild ass that was being reintroduced to the Israeli desert wilderness.)
"That was a very interesting and formative time for me," he says. "In some ways that experience ... is at the root of a lot of my motivation for having written this book."
With multiple narratives and shifting storylines, readers are left to interpret reality for themselves in Day for Night — just as they must in real life.
"We use a metaphorical version of sleight of hand all the time," Reiken says. "There's so much indirection in our lives."
Reiken says the way we interpret the world is defined by the narratives that we create to understand our lives — but he cautions against becoming too committed to one version of the story.
"It's important not to get stuck in any one narrative," Reiken says. "I think most of the biggest problems in the world come from the problem of people being stuck in a particular narrative and being unwilling to see another point of view or acknowledge another belief system."