Books: The Absence of Comfort

A Gesture Life elegantly charts the inner life of an emotionally and socially dislocated man

One of the many rewards of reading Chang-rae Lee's new novel, A Gesture Life (Riverhead Books; 288 pages; $23.95), is its reticence, a lost virtue at a time when fictional characters (to say nothing of strangers on airplanes) share intimacies as routinely as weather reports.

The imposition of unsolicited self-exposure would be unthinkable to Franklin Hata, a retired medical-supply provider in Bedley Run, an affluent suburb north of New York City. Customers and other downtown merchants call him Doc, in deference to his business. The honorary title is also a well-meaning way of saying, "You may be Japanese, but you have...

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