A double murder leads to some ugly discoveries about a small New Hampshire town and internet-fueled gossip in Baldwin’s ambitious second novel.
Unlike his witty and relaxed memoir (Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, 2012), Baldwin’s fiction strains for significance, and this one is even more overstuffed than its predecessor (You Lost Me There, 2010), with more plot and characters than the author’s technical abilities can handle. Baldwin crafts strong back stories and emotional issues for Martin Krug, a cop on the verge of retirement headed for his second divorce, and Nick Toussaint, the troubled 20-year-old he plucks from a crashed car who promptly confesses to killing the two blood-stained corpses in the back seat. And Nick’s 16-year-old truelove, Emily, subject to vicious cyberbullying and a controlling best friend, is the novel’s most full-bodied and complex character, tougher than her fragile exterior suggests. But around these three mill too many people who drop in and out of the story too often to sustain readers’ attention. Thelsa Mann, recently laid off from the Village Voice, is introduced early on and pointed in the direction of the hometown she shares with Nick and Emily, then disappears for more than 60 pages before arriving in New Hampshire to wander around obtaining a lot of thirdhand information—including a bombshell revelation about the motive behind the murders that is conveyed by a character we have just met, who heard it from someone who wasn’t there. Baldwin several times employs this technique of initially doling out plot points via a non-eyewitness, thereby muffling the impact of the eventual, fuller account by an actual participant. He seems to be making a statement about the way misinformation is spread in our hyperconnected culture, and a few clever passages of text messages reinforce it, but on the whole it simply makes for a muddy narrative.
Ruthless editing might have liberated an intriguing thesis and sharply drawn protagonists from 100 pages of extraneous material. As it stands, admirable but overreaching.