War is gritty and messy, rarely as glorious as it is in the movies or as sanitized as it can seem from a distance. The Balkan wars in the 1990s — particularly the Serbian “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia — reached a level of horror Europe hadn’t witnessed in decades. Those horrors reach out and punch readers of “The Evolution of Shadows” right in the gut.
This debut novel by Wichita author Jason Quinn Malott doesn’t dwell on the fighting, or the mass executions, or the wanton rapes; rather, it intersperses swift, shocking glimpses of them into a compelling story set a couple of years later.
Three people meet in Sarajevo, gathered to search for a mutual friend, Gray Banick, an American news photographer who has been missing since he and his interpreter were separated during a battle. Bosnian Emil, the interpreter, is certain Gray is dead, but the search is a way for him to wrestle with his own losses. Englishman Jack, a veteran correspondent, has found he can no longer function outside of a war zone. American Lian, Gray’s onetime lover, has left her unfulfilling marriage in a desperate hunt for the love and passion she had once but pushed away.
The story bounces between characters, times and places — sometimes roughly — but this only highlights the disorientation and displacement. Malott’s shadow imagery sometimes feels heavy-handed and there’s the occasional head-scratching metaphor, but the story is solid and the characters are drawn with depth and complexity. Lian and Gray’s complicated past unfurls with such aching precision that what should be a respite from war is merely an upheaval of a different sort.
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If you go
JASON QUINN MALOTT BOOK-SIGNING
What: Reading and book-signing by Wichitan Jason Quinn Malott, author of “The Evolution of Shadows”
Where: Watermark Books, 4701 E. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
How much: Free
For more information, call 316-682-1181.