by Caleb Crain
Penguin. 472 pages, $16.
THIS EXTENSIVE, detailed first novel follows a young American who’s spending a year in Czechoslovakia during 1990, the year after the fall of Communism in that country. Jacob Putnam is an unusual expatriate: gay but not fully out, he spends his days teaching English and his nights slowly, awkwardly getting to know the gay scene in Prague as well as having some romantic relationships. An aspiring writer, he only writes one story during his time abroad, about a friend who has committed suicide. The novel is mostly an interior monologue, capturing Jacob’s reflections as he navigates a country that’s slowly discovering freedom as he discovers his own sexuality and passions.