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"The Tesseract"

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Alex Garland likes to leave readers hanging. Not until the final pages of The Tesseract (Riverhead; $24.95) does he reveal the relevance of the enigmatic title. At first, the book looks to be just another steamy tropical thriller. Sean, an English smuggler, sweats in his Manila hotel room awaiting a meeting with Don Pepe, a local gangster. Rosa, a housewife, frets over her children and fights with her mother. Vincente and Totoy, two street orphans, pick their way across the urban wasteland. As the characters drift toward a common fate, we see their pasts in luscious detail. Jumping and backtracking, Garland achieves a sort of narrative origami, whereby space and time are folded back on themselves to create a four-dimensional figure -- the tesseract -- making the book fascinating and somewhat maddening. To borrow one of Garland's phrases, we see both the thing unraveled and the thing itself.


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