Liberty's Dark Dream

TITLE: ARC D'X

AUTHOR: STEVE ERICKSON

PUBLISHER: POSEIDON; 298 PAGES; $20

THE BOTTOM LINE: Magic realism veers into toxic gray as Thomas Jefferson's guilt haunts an alternate America.

This brilliant, desperate, sheet-soaking nightmare of a novel begins in what seems to be the clear air of rational narration, as Thomas Jefferson, living in Paris at the outset of the French Revolution, beds his mulatto slave girl Sally Hemmings. Whether the historical Jefferson actually did so is unprovable; he denied it, perhaps because of social necessity, and modern assertions on either side of the question are clouded by the racial politics of...

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