Here's just one example of how Ms. Picoult annoys me to death: Eric, our recovering alcoholic lawyer, is representing his fiance's father in a criminal matter, but he's interrupted by a message that his little girl is sick. Rather than just pick up the phone and call his fiance, he stops to ponder pretentiously. "I have a feeling this isn't the last time I will be asked to choose between Delia's present life and her past." Oh, please, why is HIS LITTLE CHILD'S FEVER "Delia's present life"? And why all the sturm und drang over returning a personal call in amongst representing one client and one client only? (To be fair, Eric does have one other potential client, a redneck who's concerned about the legal status of his pet crow, but that client seems to obligingly step out of the picture when Eric hysterically runs out of their initial meeting without a word of explanation).
So should I suck it up for another 253 pages of this poetic dreck, or move on? I can't understand a world where Ms. Picoult is a bestseller and my new literary darling, whose baby I would gladly have if we weren't both married to other people and if I weren't so prone to overwhelmingly traumatic morning sickness, Antoine Wilson, can't even get his book out in hardback. People, I implore you: seek out Antoine Wilson's brilliant "The Interloper" and shun the banal bestsellers.
I went to some trouble to find "The Interloper" after reading a one paragraph rave review in the New Yorker, and it did not disappoint for a minute. I cannot understand why this went straight to paperback, when it is so gripping and unusual. It's very hard to believe this is a first book; it's just so perfect.
"The Interloper" is a gem in the "unreliable narrator" genre, right up there with the astonishing "The Debt to Pleasure" by John Lanchester. Here's how our unlikely hero introduces himself:
"My name is Owen Patterson. I am thirty-eight years old. I am in fine shape medically and psychologically. I have been checked out on both counts. Despite my being far away from her, and my not having talked ot her for several months now, I remain married to Patricia Patterson, nee Stocking. We have no children. I consider myself a civilized person, probably around 80% acclimated ot the society in which I lived, if not more. A solid B. I miss working for the software company. Life had a nice routine to it. Software manuals are pleasingly logical when written right, and we used to write them right. If I could wake up from this bad dream, I would wake up in my cubicle at the software company, face creased from the edge of a binder, and ask mouth-breathing Neil, in the next cubicle over, if he wanted to get some coffee downstairs."Owen struggles to deal with his wife's sorrow after her brother is brutally murdered. The book tells the story of his imaginative attempt to seek revenge upon the jailed killer, a quixotic attempt to restore his wife's happiness which ends up taking over Owen's life.
Unlike Ms. Picoult, Antoine Wilson has a genius for dialogue. His characters all speak in their own voices, even the dead brother who leaves a frat-boy journal behind. I stayed up one night reading the whole book, and I'm sure I'll go back and re-read this again and again. I love "The Interloper" and can't wait to see Mr. Wilson's next work.
Another first-time author amazed me this summer, Lee Vance, a former Wall Street hotshot, wrote a thriller, "Restitution." Vance is amazingly good at creating a likeable but flawed main character whose life suddenly falls apart when his estranged wife is murdered. Like Wilson, Vance is surprisingly good at believable characters and dialogue for a first-time writer. "Restitution" is well worth a read; I ripped through it in a day because I couldn't stand to put it down. I loved it up until the end, where Mr. Vance seemed to have run out of ingenuity and fell back on that old cliche, the chatty villain who explains it all. Mr. Vance's evil genius could well have said, just as the tiny villain of "The Incredibles did, "You sly devil, you've got me monologuing!"
So: "The Interloper", "Restitution", and that older work of genius, "The Debt to Pleasure": wonderful works which bring so many hours of transported reading. Ms. Jodi Picoult's "Vanishing Acts": not even a feh, it's more of a meh. Happy reading, my darlings.