A psychologically harrowing and literarily provocative portrait of a mind unraveling from tragedy.
Though the prolific Everett (Wounded, 2005, etc.) has employed a variety of different narrative strategies, this first-person confession finds the novelist at his metafictional best. In almost claustrophobic fashion, the reader inhabits the mind of “Call me Ishmael” Kidder, who steeps his narrative in the richness of literary and philosophical allusion. While pondering the essence of storytelling, of identity, of words themselves, Ishmael continues to circle around his plot’s pivot: the rape and murder of his 11-year-old daughter, Lane. The incident followed Ishmael’s separation from his wife, Charlotte, which may or may not have been preceded by Ishmael’s infidelity (he can’t be sure whether he cheated in his mind or in truth, wherever truth may lie). Yet living apart from her father plainly had a disturbing effect on Lane, making Ishmael feel complicit (though not of rape or murder) well before the fatal brutality suffered by his daughter. “I may not be at fault or to blame, but I am guilty for the death of my child,” he confesses. Ishmael is also a storyteller, a writer of romance novels using a woman’s name, and the rest of the story he tells concerns the revenge he wreaks on his daughter’s murderer, a diabolically deliberate process that takes as much toll on Ishmael as it does on his prey (unnamed, perhaps even imaginary, whom Ishmael ultimately refers to as his “victim”). Within what Ishmael refers to as “this sick thing I call a mind,” there is wordplay that evokes Joyce, Chaucer and Lewis Carroll. There are philosophical debates between Plato and Socrates. There are meditations on what Ishmael calls “the functions of language,” the last of which he asserts is “to cause pain.” For Ishmael, there is no escape from his mind in this novel. And none for the reader as well.
Whether read as thriller or allegory, Ishmael’s fall from grace has a lacerating power.