Build cage. Buy gun. Kidnap editor. But then what? Hayes (stories: Kissing You, 2003) fumbles the hard part in his talky first novel.
The abduction is over, disappointingly, in a New York minute. After Evan Ulmer nabs senior book publishing editor Bob Partnow outside his Manhattan office, the obliging editor drives the getaway car to Evan’s home in Sandhurst, a quiet Hudson Valley town. Once there, Evan imprisons Bob in his soundproofed basement, a chain-link fence separating them. Evan, 35, was a legal proofreader until his parents’ deaths made him financially independent, and has written two unpublished novels. What’s behind his harebrained scheme? Is it a loser’s muddled concoction of envy and revenge, or does he just want a pal? For there will be long, inconclusive talks between the guys. Meanwhile, Evan has met a potential girlfriend at the library, the much younger Promise Buckley, also an aspiring writer. Hayes crosscuts between Evan’s conversations with Bob and with Promise; we never get more than snippets of each. Two might have been company, if Evan and Bob had probed their psyches instead of sniffing each other, but three feels like a crowd. Nor does Hayes try for the sense of menace that, say, Fowles achieved in The Collector. Bob tells Evan (a wimp, despite the gun) that he’s not afraid of him, and Evan confides to the reader that Bob’s release is a “foregone conclusion.” But neither does Hayes attempt black comedy, despite Bob’s flashes of dry humor. What’s left is a novel of character, though we don’t get much of that either. Promise is underdeveloped. Low-keyed Bob comes off better, a jaded professional with an unusual love life—certainly more interesting than Evan, an empty vessel whose essential passivity casts doubt on his kidnapping credentials. The only thing that works is the denouement, which engages all three characters in satisfying, credible ways.
A tease tricked out with literary effects.