The novel’s setup is fairly simple. Sean, the narrator, suffered severe facial disfigurement from a gunshot wound sometime in his early life—the kind of disfigurement which makes him hard to look at, which makes other people recoil from him. But after decades of learning to accept his situation, he’s patient, quiet, and hopeful. He’s even managed to turn his suffering into a vocation: He supplements his insurance payments by creating play-by-mail adventure games. He personally guides subscribers through fantasy realms he devised as he recuperated alone in his hospital bed. The most elaborate and alluring of these worlds is Trace Italian.