A woman destabilized by her infertility and impending divorce obsesses over her next door neighbor, an actress who seems to have it all.
After years trying to achieve her dream of being a tenured professor of English in the big city with a husband, children, and even a cat to round things out, the unnamed narrator of poet Sims’ (Staying Alive, 2016, etc.) first foray into fiction has hit a wall. Infertility forced her to give up her dreams of motherhood; her husband has left her. She’s only managed to make lecturer at her university, teaching a night class on poetry to seven students. At least she’s got the cat. As the woman stews in bitterness over her fate, she fixates on the actress, who recently made the move from indie darling to blockbuster star. The narrator watches the actress through her lit windows at dusk: The actress has a handsome husband, three beautiful children, a cook, a nanny. As the narrator’s divorce grows more acrimonious, she makes a series of increasingly unhinged decisions—ranging from stealing from the actress’s garden to getting involved with one of her poetry students—and accelerates toward inevitable disaster. Like a modern-day version of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Sims’ novel shows the warped reality and claustrophobic mentality of a person losing a grip on her moral compass. But this reality is conveyed with slack language and a piling on of plot turns out of Single White Female or Fatal Attraction, which seems especially bewildering from Sims, the author of four well-regarded collections of poetry. In fact, the novel has some of its most original and electric moments when the narrator dives into the edgy poems she teaches her students.
That this novel gallops along at top speed doesn’t disguise the overly familiar scenery going by along the way.