Words have meaning beyond what Webster says about them. They have sound. They have music. The tone with which they are spoken can alter their intent. "Come on," for example, can be a sarcastic quip, playful plea, or sexy appeal. Is the phrase whined or whinnied?
Words are, of course, writers' favorite playthings. But novelist Scott Dominic Carpenter is better at playing them than most. As a result, reading a Theory of Remainders is akin to solving a linguistic puzzle in which every utterance by Carpenter's antagonist may have a hidden definition, particularly when the word has meaning in multiple languages.
I enjoyed the game. However, the word play is only one reason to read Theory of Remainders. The protagonist of the story, a divorced father and psychiatrist still suffering from the murder of his teenage daughter and the unknown location of her remains, is a beautifully drawn character: sympathetic yet frustrating at times, angry but caring, selfish and also capable of great selfless. He is a true human and a great companion for an emotionally compelling psychological thriller.
The setting is another reason to become engrossed in the novel. The story takes place in the Normandy region of France, a place of contradictions. Outsiders are unwelcome, yet tourism is the primary economic driver. The beaucolic landscape is still pockmarked with buried artillery shells from World War II. The omnipresent graves are a source of both national pride and sorrow. By the end of the novel, I had an affinity for the place--even if its inhabitants would have wanted to kick me out.
The setting inspired my wine pairing for this book. Chanson Pere & Fils is a Pinot Noir from the Burgandy region of France, oft said to produce the best reds in the world. This wine is a bit tart and spicy, yet the finish isn't too harsh. The wine's name means Father and Sons Song which, as you read the book, becomes particularly apt--though explaining why could spoil the ending.