This is a strange, strange book. I’m not sure what I think about it. I liked the concepts that Ross was working with, of Escher and tessellations and Hitchcock and disorientation; I liked the way he built up a million questions and seeming incongruities and then made them all work out, in one form or another, at the end; I liked that he gave me a nudge in the right direction when things got all literary and subtextual. I didn’t like the characters, who were by design all very similar and possibly by design all really annoying; I didn’t like the interlude with Sam Sheppard that didn’t really go anywhere, by which I mean it didn’t seem to move the story along and also it didn’t seem to fit in with the story, at the end; I didn’t like that Ross’s nudges sometimes turned into pushes or slaps.
If you had asked me yesterday, when I was about halfway through, what this book was about, I would have told you pretty much what you’ll see on the jacket flap: some guy called David Pepin is said, on the very first page, to be a continual day-dreamer of ways that his wife might die. He’s a little morbid, that one. And then poof! A few pages later, his wife is dead, and the manner in which she died is either a suicide or a murder and it’s pretty much impossible to figure it out. But a couple of detectives, including Cleveland’s own Sam Sheppard, are working on it. Slowly. While dealing with bad relationships of their own.
But today… it’s odd, because on the one hand I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining the intense maze that is this novel, but on the other hand I’m pretty sure that no matter how much of the plot or conceit I gave away there would still be something in this book that would surprise you. Because there is a LOT of stuff in here.
So I think I will talk about my favorite and least favorite parts: the Escher and the characters, respectively. Bad things first!
The characters are whiny as all hell. In an interview, Adam Ross said that he didn’t consider his characters’ marriages dysfunctional, because what’s functional and also don’t all marriages have their ups and downs? I can agree with him on that, and I didn’t mind too much that his married characters were sometimes in love and sometimes not — I’ve certainly seen that enough in my lifetime.
BUT. I have never heard of anyone staying bed for five months to prove a point, what point I’m still not sure. And I swear, if the dead wife in this story were mine, I would be seriously contemplating her death as well. I cannot deal with people who don’t use their words, and I especially cannot deal with people who use their words to say, “If you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m not going to tell you.” Ri-freaking-diculous. And all of the female characters, and to a lesser extent the male characters, do this throughout the novel. Scott heard me loudly complain more than once about it.
Okay, good things. I wrote on the Twitter that the title page of this book is decorated with Escher, who is one of my favorite artists ever. This predisposed me to like the novel, and it also helped me get through a lot of the novel. See, it’s broken up into bits and pieces, with some dude-wanting-his-wife-dead over here and some detectives-investigating-the-mystery there and some oh-hey-I-should-probably-explain-who-Sam-Sheppard-is-because-it-turns-out-he’s-just-like-that-guy-that-wanted-his-wife-dead right in the middle. And then these pieces, they’re sort of thrown up in the air and land wherever they want and there aren’t any chapters and you just sort of have to hope that when you get to a new paragraph you’ll be able to figure out what’s going on. And that is SO Escher.
Oh, and one of those smacks to the face that Ross doles out is all but breaking the fourth wall to tell you that you should read this book to figure out the plot, then read it again to take notes on it, and then discuss it with people. And so I will do this! Thanks goodness for a book group.
Recommendation: Read this if you like or are at least intrigued by movies like Memento or Primer. Also very good for Hitchcock fans, I think.
Rating: 8/10 — Most of this rating comes from the novel’s structure. If it were just the murder-mystery plot or those darned characters it would be much lower.
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