Pop quiz: Saipan--what do you know about it?
I'd have failed my own quiz.
But thanks to P.F. Kluge's latest novel, The Master Blaster, I feel like I've learned a few things. Kluge notes at the end of the book that he's traveled to Saipan many times, starting with a Peace Corps stint. I can't vouch for his accuracy, not having been there, but Saipan as a place feels extremely real. And it feels like somewhere I might like to go, although Kluge doesn't sugarcoat the darker sides of the island and its population. To his credit.
The Master Blaster alternates chapters told from the point of view of the Master Blaster himself, who runs a furtive website exposing the darker edges of life in Saipan; George Griffin, jaded travel writer; Stephanie Warner, a college professor who takes a place at the College of the Islands on a whim after separating from her husband; Mel Brodie, on "assignment" (read: hiding) for a real estate broker; and Khan, a Bangladeshi man who's come to look for work, but finds something else altogether (it's no spoiler to say that what he finds isn't an improvement on what he's looking for). All but the Master Blaster arrive in Saipan on the same plane, and their paths cross as the weeks and months go by, but each of their stories is completely individual, from George's growing fascination with the island (and the Master Blaster), to Stephanie's unexpected promotion, to Mel's "rescue" of some Russian call girls that makes him a local hero, to Khan's desperate search for a way to make a living. They're all flawed, they're all interesting, and by the end, I really cared about them.
Kluge tells a terrific tale, with a rapid pace, fully developed characters, and always manages to not quite veer into predictable territory. I hadn't read anything by him before, but turns out he's the author of a novel called Eddie and the Cruisers, which I didn't know preceded the movie, and the movie Dog Day Afternoon is based on his work as well, so he's no slouch.
So, yes, read this book. And now I want to read other books that he's written.