A first outing, wonderfully streamlined and unsentimental, about a couple of big-city refugees in rural Pennsylvania who conduct a vicious relationship skirmish.
Some relationship novels simply spin their wheels, offer minute analysis of the most mundane lives, adding homespun wisdom and the occasional uplifting, ready-made resolution. And some are like this one, which, though resolutely a novel of relationships—of people rather than story—manages to offer up a unique tale of love and the battlefields it is fought on. Set in a small Pennsylvania town that seems unchanged by time, it tells of Nina, a designer of oddly engineered, Rube-Goldberglike machines who is locked into a decades-long love/hate relationship with her boyfriend Tony, a painter and professor. Nina’s encounter with Bill, an older man who lives nearby watching over a farm, opens up a can of worms between herself and Tony. The two of them have been playing a passive-aggressive cheating-revenge game for some years now, and when Bill unexpectedly opens up to Nina about an affair he had back in the 1950s with his brother’s French wife, it awakens a heretofore-unknown level of hostility in Nina toward the flirty, philandering Tony. Happily for readers, Latuchie spends a decent amount of time flashing away from Nina’s neurotic present (she’s an interesting and sharp character, but, as her friends keep noting, she has a tendency to go on in “fucking, endless patterns”). The narrative presents a latticework of stories from Nina and Tony’s past as well as Bill’s, especially about the aftermath of his affair and the collateral damage it caused his family. The only detail that doesn’t quite work is the title’s “honey wall,” a nest of hidden bees made to serve as a belabored metaphor for the erotic repercussions of illicit affairs.
Still, a collection of small, perfectly chosen moments, seamlessly woven together.