From Holden (The Jazz Bird, 2002, etc), an upwardly aspirational angry young man’s ambitions are corrupted by involvement with a manipulative couple and their daughter.
Working-class premed student Daniel (Syd) Redding dreams of murdering his lab boss,Ted Kessler, and Ted’s wife Joyce: “They were an unassailable monolith, moneyed and beautiful and installed high in the city’s society.” Ted’s paternalism and Joyce’s flirtatiousness have lured him into a complicated web of power, sex and voyeurism. Syd’s visceral response is characteristic of his brooding masculinity. More satisfying than bloodshed, however, is the idea of seducing their bookish daughter Jessi, who responds to Syd’s seduction with uncomplicated adoration. Syd brags at work of Jessi’s sexual enslavement in order to watch Ted squirm, although in fact Syd’s old-fashioned rectitude means that so far he has scarcely mussed Jessi’s hair. Ted reacts by hiring Ron, a heavy who beats Syd up with exhausting regularity. When Joyce lures Syd back into their affair, an implausible double life commences: mutually gratifying sex with Jessi on the one hand, and a tawdry S&M liaison with her mother on the other. Sense and logic drift further out the window as Syd’s inexplicable drive to self-destruction and professional failure is compounded by the risk of Jessi finding out. An equally high-intensity subplot involves Syd’s stepfather, birthmarked sister and possibly child-molesting pal Donny. Syd predicts, with portentous fatalism, that “it had gone bad, all of it, and was going to come crumbling down.” But in lieu of a showstopping conclusion, Holden supplies an offstage murder and an attempted suicide. All ends well for Syd and Jessi, but a final flashback undercuts at least some expectations while pulling together all those weighty themes of blood, bones, collusion and entrapment.
Hardly a conventional thriller, this red-meat narrative revisits a scenario reminiscent of Room at the Top or even The Graduate. As a version of the revenge melodrama, it is less a Greek tragedy, more catharsis lite.