Robert Froese’s fourth novel addresses insecurity of security in the 21st century

Posted June 27, 2010, at 7:12 p.m.

THE ORIGINS OF MISGIVING, by Robert Froese, Flat Bay Press, Harrington, Maine, 2009, 205 pages, trade paperback, $15.

The protagonist of Robert Froese’s fourth novel, “The Origins of Misgiving,” is a security expert. But the upscale suburban neighborhood where he lives, Brandewoode, is about as insecure as it can get. So is the cybersecurity outfit Michael Benson works for, Argus. So are the woods around his house, where he keeps seeing snakes and faces that should not be there. So is Michael’s trash, which he chains up only to have vandals — or whoever they are — get into anyway. So are his neighbors, who are taking sick. So are his yard tools. So is his relationship with his wife, Brenda, whom he describes as the sexiest woman alive but to whom he seems to have no access. He thinks she might be having an affair.

He’s not sure, though, and well into the story of “The Origins of Misgiving,” when it appears Michael has caught Brenda red-handed with one of his Argus colleagues, we are still not sure, either. This is because we are not sure what’s coming apart: Michael’s neighborhood, Michael’s life, or Michael.

“Are you out of your mind?” Brenda asks him as he gets ready to drive off into a Category 5 hurricane thinking he has to get to work. When he gets lost in the tempest and is plunged into a series of weird events that include a girl living in a wagon and cops who seem to be out to get him — at least, they are out to get somebody — we think the answer to Brenda’s question must be yes. But it’s an answer fraught with misgivings similar to the ones we have about King Lear, who also had trouble matching his ideas about reality to reality.

What’s really happening? This question sucks you through the book. If John Cheever had written “The Turn of the Screw,” it would have come out something like this — with a narrator from a well-to-do suburb reporting events that wave up and down between crystal-clear and surreal, right up to the end.

“The Origins of Misgiving” is a creepy, often funny depiction not only of the bizarre wanderings of Michael Benson’s mind, but also the landscapes and characters he may or may not be describing accurately. His psychic discombobulation is fascinating from start to finish and may expose the uneasy atmosphere of insecurity that, in our escalating efforts to secure ourselves more securely, might be more prevalent than we want to think here in the early years of the 21st century.

Robert Froese teaches writing and film at the University of Maine at Machias. His other novels are “The Hour of Blue,” “The Forgotten Condition of Things” and “A Dark Music.” “The Origins of Misgiving” is available by writing to Flat Bay Press, P.O. Box 217, Harrington 04643, or going online to http://flatbaycollective.org.

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