Fault Lines, divided into four parts, has four narrators, each of whom is six years old at the time of the telling. Spanning four generations, the story begins in 2004 but rewinds through successive narrators, each of whom is the parent of the child in the previous section. While each segment is set in an historical era marked by war and political upheaval, there is just one gradually disclosed family secret rooted in Nazi Germany. This explains not only the family history but also the many political-historical situations that shaped the characters of the wounded and wounding family members whose fault lines reach into the twenty-first century.
The first six-year-old is Solomon, nicknamed Sol, who is worshipped by his mother as a little god-king. His resulting narcissism requires the reader eventually to view the creepy Sol as a victim of an emotional illness that may be the consequence of the way his mother has chosen to raise him. His mother’s Christian evangelism and the self-esteem movement have had an influential role in creating the arrogant but weak and anorexic Sol. His psychological development is also depicted within the context of the foreign policy of the U.S. government with regard to the war in Iraq, which both of his parents unquestioningly support. In fact, Sol’s father Randall works for the military effort by exploring ways to create an army of warrior-robots.
While his doting mother has deluded herself into believing that her child rearing is an enlightened one that has produced in Sol a paragon of virtue and innocence, the boy’s inner life is warped and sadistic. As a consequence of the excessive sanitizing of his life, Sol is driven to seek out the evil hidden and undisclosed by his mother, and his ability to access this evil through an unsupervised Internet connection allows him to live a double life. His discovery of the torture of Muslim prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, for instance, creates in Sol a fascination with brutality and with sexualized brutality, and he gravitates to Web sites that show pornography or violence or, ideally, both. Although Sol seems to be an evil little creature, at the same time the reader understands that his upbringing may be a very subtle form of abuse. His eating disorder, his manipulative and exploitive relationship to his mother, and the falsity of the self she has insisted on constructing for him all suggest that the fault line Sol represents in the family may end not in the success of which he feels he has been assured but in a cataclysmic earthquake. This bad seed, however, is not only connected to the cultural and political dynamics of the United States. Huston uses the phrase “fault line” to suggest that Sol must be understood in relationship not to the present but to the fissures that go back to Sol’s grandmother and great-grandmother, with their roots in Europe. Sol’s unsightly brown birthmark, for instance, is a genetic heritage from his grandmother Erra; even when Sol’s mother attempts to have it surgically removed, it remains as an ugly scar that indicates the continuing presence of the past. Sol’s ties to the past are further emphasized when his grandmother Sadie insists that the entire family revisit the German village in which Sol’s great grandmother was raised. Sol’s visit to Germany is the first of the unsettling geographic dislocations that the reader comes to understand as a recurring family pattern.
This theme of uprooting is further explored in the next chapter, which takes place in l984 and which features Randall, Sol’s father, as a six-year-old. Randall’s controlling and perfectionist mother, Sadie, obsessed with her family roots in Germany, ruthlessly relocates her son and his acquiescent father to Haifa, Israel, in order to research the Nazi Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) project that bred blond, blue-eyed boys and girls or took blond, blue-eyed children from various conquered territories and recycled them into German families. Huston relocates Sadie’s family at the time of the civil war in Lebanon, and even more specifically the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatilla. The zealous Sadie, who has converted to Judaism, defends Israel’s role in these massacres against her dissenting Jewish husband; the resolution of this conflict, however, as far as Randall is concerned, is saved for his little...
(The entire section is 1792 words.)