A pair of thematically connected novellas—about loneliness—by the author of the Richard Jury mysteries (The Stargazey, 1998, etc.) and, most recently, Biting the Moon (1999). At the center of each is a woman leading a life in gunmetal gray. Dissimilar in detail—one protagonist is English, the other American; one has a friend or two, the other seems not to have any—the women are alike in their resignation, in the degree to which their expectations have shrunk. And in their terrible vulnerability, which in both cases is exploited by a powerful man. In "The Train Now Departing," the American story, much of what happens takes place over a Magritte-like series of lunches. Having begun quite accidentally, they have become self-perpetuating, ritualized. The man (neither character is named) is a well-known travel writer who hates to travel. The woman, on the other hand, would like to travel—and has the means to, as her companion insists on pointing out—but she has long ceased to regard herself as a person who travels. They pick at each other with increasing skill: obligatory mini attacks—not meant to hurt really, mounted mostly because the other is there. In "When The Mousetrap Closes," Edith Parenger meets Archie Marchbanks in her favorite tea shop. He's a brilliant young actor; she's a longtime admirer. When she recognizes him, she forces herself to go to his table, behavior atypical enough to be heart-fluttering and, later, inexplicable. He, however, is kind. More than that, he seems actually eager to pursue an acquaintanceship. As in the first story, there is nothing overtly sexual in the relationship, yet both women are heavily invested. Also as in the first, the end, when it comes, is bruising. Clear-eyed, nuanced probings into the cruelty of isolation, and though persuasively sad, neither novella is at all sentimental. But readers who come to Grimes for a Richard Jury-like experience should be warned: these are lives of very quiet desperation.
Read full book review >