In sociology, the “small world theory” holds that any two people can be connected to one another along a chain of no more than a few acquaintances (typically six, the fabled “six degrees of separation”). Though the research behind it is at best contentious, there’s something deeply appealing about its logic-defying simplicity, something exciting about what it implies. In a world that can seem vast and alienating, the idea that we’re all much closer than it seems is, at first glance, comforting. The flip side is that our influence may extend further than we realize.
In his second novel, “The Illusion of Separateness,” Simon Van Booy presents a cast of characters who have had a profound effect on one another’s lives, yet cannot see the bonds that link them. He divides his book into six separate narratives, each following a different character through different eras, from the Second World War to the present: Martin, a retirement home caretaker; Mr. Hugo, a disfigured Wehrmacht veteran; Sébastien, a lovelorn young boy; John, whose B-24 bomber is shot out of the sky over France; Amelia, a blind museum curator and John’s granddaughter; and Danny, a budding filmmaker. Van Booy presents their stories in a nonlinear fashion, shifting back and forth from character to character, decade to decade.