In the amnesiac manner of Guy Pearce living his life backward in Memento, and of this present tale’s hero, John Wright, who also lives his crumbling life backward, novelist Skinner forgets that he co-authored the novel Protokol (not reviewed) with Eugene Golub, counting this his debut instead. In the unfolding confusions here, we meet Wright in wintry Minneapolis, where he lives in a decaying house and has stashed $400,000 and a plastic bag of photographs in his bedroom wall. He’s there to find a neutral space, away from the past and memories of his lost Iris Kateran, whom he vaguely remembers having killed, and afterward having stolen the money from her father. He also remembers lonely years at Harvard and then, vividly, meeting the unattainable Iris during his third year. So highborn—still, she asks him out for coffee. The story weaves between seven days today and fragments from the past. He has a strange scar in his hair—from where? Then Iris reappears, strange, mentally fragmented, not a ghost but really not alive, and also with scars in her hair, scars Wright believes he put there when he killed her. She hangs around the way disconnected-from-time Jennie does in Robert Nathan’s memorable Portrait of Jennie. Her zillionaire father, Karl Kateran, has private investigator Solomon Ford tailing Wright. Iris had changed John’s name to Jack when they’d lived together at Harvard, also sharing her fabulous account jointly—she even gave him a credit card and dressed him anew in the finest duds. In LA, they start up a money-managing office with Frank Lee, their Chinese buddy from Harvard. Success blooms but, emotionally, things fall apart. Karl turns mean, Frank screws up the business, the company fails, and Iris tells Jack, “You and my father are going to kill me.” Well, is Daddy the baddie when Iris disappears? Will John ever find her again—for real?
Spelled out on a level you don’t expect. But plenty of reader stickum.