Kline, an ex-detective, has been through something you can't understand, and/or hope never to understand: he's lost his hand. In a confrontation withKline, an ex-detective, has been through something you can't understand, and/or hope never to understand: he's lost his hand. In a confrontation with a drug dealer, he cauterises the wound himself rather than call for help, so he can kill the man who cut off his hand. This happens before the novel even begins properly. Kline doesn't recover. He sits in his apartment in stillness that seems to go deeper than even depression. Then he's kidnapped by a small sect who believe that Kline can help them solve the murder of their leader, and may indeed be drawn to them by some power higher than himself.
I'm almost afraid to review this book. It runs at less than 200 very densely-packed pages; in those pages, the plot veers wildly - yet always, or almost always, plausibly - between terrifying mutilation, fundamentalist religion, noir mystery, and improbably hilarious humour, courtesy of two very Samuel Beckett-like figures Ramse and Gous, who induct Kline into the cult and so believe themselves to have developed an almost buddy-cop relationship with him. Their most powerful weapon against Kline isn't even their existential beliefs; it's their almost childlike insistence that he would hurt their feelings terribly if he left and their constant bizarre desire to impress and please him, whether if Gous invites Kline to his coming-out party, which turns out to be a public amputation.
This entire book is astonishing. It contains set pieces that are so stunning, dark, and yet frighteningly logical
I can't remember if I've said this before on GR, but I may have done. For me, 5-star books aren't necessarily "perfect" books. They are books that had a deep impact on me personally - maybe they changed my mind, maybe they spoke deeply to me, maybe they just stirred something deep and strange inside of me. That's one of these books. Even if you hate it, I'd be surprised if you forgot it in a hurry.
After all, this book is mad, isn't it? A sect which ranks people by cutting off limbs ("one" = one amputation), which is populated by characters who bicker and banter if not reciting set phrases; calendars adorned by a woman called "Miss Less is More", where each month is represented by a woman missing more and more body parts; a strip club where Ramse attempts to cheer Kline up (after kidnapping him) by presenting him with a stripper who methodically removes each of her prosthetic limbs instead of her clothes.
For me, this book was an exercise in the sheer willpower of writing. Instead of descending into ludicrous pulp (well, no more than a little), Brian Evenson's brilliantly minimalistic writing and control of his own story leads this story into an utterly linear and phenomenal study of faith, survival, and its relationship to the very stuff of life itself.
- Okay, enough. I've desecrated this book long enough with my blathering. I think the best way I can sum up how I felt about this book, and maybe suggest whether or not you want to read it, is to take the quote with which Peter Straub (who writes the introduction - it's very good, but read it afterwards and dive straight into Evenson's prose for the full discombobulating experience) closes his own introduction. It's from Evenson's afterword:
Now, now that you are free (if it really is you), the question is, How do you make sense of the rest of your life?...more
This book had an intriguing, if somewhat distasteful, premise: the story of a woman whose husband was accused of being the murderer of a two-year-oldThis book had an intriguing, if somewhat distasteful, premise: the story of a woman whose husband was accused of being the murderer of a two-year-old girl abducted from her home, mostly on the strength of evidence gained through (possible) entrapment on a chat room for paedophiles. Any nuance or even particular insight promised by this book - such as by Caroline Kepnes's devilishly dark You - on the intimacy between couples, the draw of pornography, or the line between fantasy and reality, flies out of the window almost immediately and keeps flying.
It's simply all too obvious. It's crammed full of characters - "the widow" is only one of several (presumably "the detective" was even more like every other book on the market), accompanied by equally bland monikers, denoting equally bland characters, such as "the mother" and "the journalist." However, honestly, I also found this aspect of the book fairly flat; it's okay - very mildly diverting - and I liked the manner in which it covered a long period of time between a crime, believably drawing on matters like the twenty-four hour news cycle, the manipulation of the public's sympathy, and interesting court scenes.
However, all of this is ultimately muted into irrelevance by the utterly predictable shape of the grey plot. Almost everything you need to know about the characters is displayed on the first few pages; Jean is perhaps the only one who doesn't fall into total cliche. Other than her (the widow), there's the detective (a near-retirement kind old soul with a detective's usual flaws: an obsessive interest in this one particular case, a tendency to get over-involved, & an attraction of pretty women), and the journalist (who apparently is really great at getting stories out of people but seems to do little other than get lucky, speak to them patronisingly, touch their arms, and occasionally cock her head to one side if none of that works.
Perhaps the most woefully, predictably underdeveloped character of all, however, is Glen, Jean's (presumably) monstrous husband. From the moment we see Glen, it's established that he is controlling, spiteful, narcissistic, and emotionally abusive towards Jean, even from the first few lines of dialogue they share. By making it so clear that Glen is a liar and an opportunist, it's impossible to take even the hold he has over Jean seriously. Far from infusing the narrative with any particular menace, then, he just feels like a flat missed opportunity. Strange twists, such as the role of Glen's co-workers, instead seem to be convoluted attempts at narrative padding.
The fact is, no matter how many "things" are thrown into this book, there's nothing really, overly dislikable about The Widow. It's an utterly paint-by-numbers, bland, unsurprising "psychological thriller" with many of the usual tropes thrown in and blended together hurriedly (the bad, inattentive husband; the mousy wife who goes along with everything until the moment she can't anymore; the ballsy female journalist; the dippy mother broken by grief; the cutesy two-year-old for whom everyone needs justice; the decent, obsessive police officer; even the sleazy lawyer) that it reaches almost the point of parody in places. Anyone who's ever read a mystery before will recognise at least one of the conversations had by someone in this novel, or one of the characters. Narrow the playing field down to thrillers about missing/murdered children and many readers will probably recognise even more. It isn't just the characters that are repetitive. Their dynamics, too, are so creakingly familiar.
With unmistakable graceful moments, like Jean's joy at seeing a hotel room, for instance, I just found this one so devoid of anything original - one single titbit - that while I can't find anything to dislike about it, I also can't find much positive to say. When I look at this book, I see it with grey mush oozing out of it - both a sign of how overstuffed yet strangely immobile it is, a colour that isn't a colour. It throws all these elements that should make a good psychological thriller together, but the resulting concoction is so insistently bland and unsurprising that I don't really understand the hype....more