A plucky heroine is forced to distinguish between literary illusion and existential reality in this murky sins-of-the-father metafiction from Straub (The Throat, 1993, etc.).
Vaguely discontented with her marriage to a 40-year-old manchild named Davey, ten years her junior, Nora Chancel (who served as a frontline nurse during the Vietnam War) resolves to turn their lives around. Barring the way to any immediate breakaway, however, is Alden, her domineering father-in-law and head of the publishing house that employs Davey. Along with several generations of devoted readers, moreover, Davey is mesmerized by Night Journey, an allusive allegory whose perennial bestseller status has sustained the family firm down through the years. Meanwhile, the brutal murders of four well-to-do divorcÇes and widows (all in their middle or late 40s) rock the upscale Connecticut exurb in which the Chancels all reside. The culprit turns out to be Dick Dart, a local attorney and former classmate of Davey's at Yale. A remorseless and resourceful monster with a wealth of grievances, Dart soon escapes from the town jail with Nora in tow. The fugitive, who's been killing off clients to undermine his father's law practice, is also pursuing a brand-new agenda: to prove that Hugo Driver, the long-dead author of Night Journey, did not actually write the book. Though on the run through backcountry New England, he and Nora manage to gather a considerable amount of testimony in support of his thesis. The final proofs are unearthed at a sometime writers' colony, where Nora wastes the sporadically charming but consistently vicious Dart in a climactic and bloody confrontation. After a hellish ten-day journey, then, she returns home to dump hapless Davey--and put paid to Chancel House.
Despite an eerily captivating villain in the person of Dick Dart, an ultimately tedious odyssey--unredeemed by its quixotic quests for the truth about times long past.