Dangerous lesbian liaisons intertwine with a murky murder in Miller’s third novel.
Middle-aged Amanda excavates her past in therapy sessions, seeking to recover the details of a childhood trauma that has left her with a lifelong fear of her older brother, Adrian. In addition to Adrian’s possible attempt to molest her, his seeming complicity in her twin brother Duncan’s death opens another black hole in her psyche. But the fairly intriguing Adrian story soon falls by the wayside, overtaken by recurring flashbacks to Amanda’s days as a drama major at a Minnesota university. There, a student production of Pinter’s Betrayal alters her worldview. Directing the play is queen mean bee Sarah, a narcissistic professor. Sarah and her colleague and lover, Marta, and their retinue of admirers dress and wear their hair alike. While Amanda worships her from afar, Sarah discards Marta and steals Amanda’s girlfriend, Ellen. Eventually, Amanda forsakes theater for the financial field and, in the present, falls in love with a client, Theresa, who bears an uncanny—and puzzling, plotwise—resemblance to Sarah and Marta. In another flashback, Amanda gets a late-night phone call from Sarah begging her to come to Chicago “before he does.” But when Sarah opens the door, she affects not to know why Amanda is there. Behind Sarah is Adrian, looking menacing. After Sarah mysteriously dies a few days later, multiple questions arise, which Amanda adds to her already full plate of enigmas: what happened to Marta? And was Sarah really the one who died or someone impersonating her? And what was Adrian doing there—or anywhere, for that matter? The best-drawn and most believable character in the book, who appears all too infrequently to help unsnarl it all, is Amanda’s best friend: unkempt, professorial Babs. Miller’s tendency to pile on extra adverbs and adjectives, or two metaphors when one—or none—would do, makes for even more impenetrability.
Like a fattening mille-feuille, too multilayered for its own good.