Manhattanites take up residence in the country, with dire results.
Lily’s an academic; Duncan works in advertising. When she inherits an old house upstate, they decide to spend the summer there. It’s a commonplace of modern fiction to make the city stand for artifice and jaded discontent and to equate the rustic with authenticity; first-time author Mauro does something like that here, but she does so without a shred of sentimentality. Those who enjoy sweet tales in which harried urbanites discover the simple joys of small-town life are given fair warning: The novel begins with Duncan crashing a car into a wild boar and Lily dispatching the doomed, bellowing creature with a tire iron. This hapless couple, it is immediately evident, will not be saved by fresh-baked pies and evenings on the porch swing. For one thing, their house is not an adorable country cottage or rough-hewn cabin, but a dangerously dilapidated Victorian. And their new neighbors aren’t really the pie-baking type—more the gun-wielding type, occasionally brandishing torches. While Mauro is no more romantic about civilization than she is about nature—a onetime advertising executive herself, she offers a knowingly damning portrait of Duncan’s profession—her delineation of people slipping into a kind of subhuman, pre-rational state is chilling. It’s also frequently very funny and strangely moving, as is her depiction of the inability to communicate with each other that began the devolution of Duncan and Lily’s marriage well before their journey upstate. Lily’s friendship with the town pervert is similarly both comic and poignant. As the violent undercurrent that runs through this narrative erupts through the surface, readers will discover their own complicity in Lily’s and Duncan’s questionable actions. Mauro mirrors our animal selves back to us, and it’s not a pretty sight.
A brave and accomplished debut: weird, disturbing and intensely engaging.