Early in Katie Crouch’s ambitious and unnerving new novel, Abroad, her young Irish student narrator, Taz Deacon, takes us on a tour of an Etruscan archeological museum in Grifonia, Italy, where she encounters violent images of Iphigenia, stabbed as a sacrifice to Artemis. Taz wants to understand whythis happened and whythe disturbing images are so insistently reproduced and displayed. A smug and patronizing German dude in her tour group warns her: “You are too interested in this gory story…. It’s a sad, complicated story. Much too complicated for you.” You can’t handle the truth, girl, he sniffs. Abroad, like the myth of Iphigenia and the many familiar and unfamiliar stories it refracts, issimultaneously complicated and disarmingly simple. Like its setting, Grifonia, “there are layers here, thousands of years of life and death and secrets and untold history.” But don’t let Crouch or Taz or the German dude scare you. This is a can’t-look-away kind of book.
Many people will read Abroad because they remain interested in, and maybe even perversely turned on by, the sad and complicated story of Amanda Knox. Others will read Abroad because they have come to expect from Crouch’s earlier books that she will have trenchant, funny, useful answers to the question “What is it, really, that feeds a friendship between women?” Crouch herself has encouraged this kind of reading, notably in her February 2014 Salon article, “Amanda Knox, what really happened: Writing toward the actual story.” In Salon, Crouch says that, like Taz, she is most interested in the question of why: “Why was Meredith Kercher killed?” And Crouch describes Amanda Knox as “caught in a fiction other people want to read,” encouraging Knox to write her own story. Crouch says that she herself is “working on a novel loosely inspired by” Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox. “Truly worthy fiction has empathy, even for the sinners,” she says.
Abroad is truly worthy fiction. It has empathy. It’s even inspired. It is not, however the “actual story” of Amanda Knox—at least not in the newspaper or tabloid sense, and it never pretends or wants to be. Crouch’s loyal readers will find serious attention paid to what this book calls “that empowerment thing. Staying in front of it,” even as the story acknowledges, achingly, that, “of course, you’re never in front of the heart”.