In this novel of midlife malaise and creative frustration, a novelist insinuates himself into the seemingly idyllic life of a local couple, with emotional destruction in mind.
Eric McCanus, the narrator of Gillis’ (The Consequences of Skating, 2010, etc.) novel, leads a complicated life. He’s the author of a literary cult classic, but as he’s grown older, his time has been increasingly spent working in the music industry. He remains friendly with his ex-wife, Lidia, and he’s begun a nebulous relationship with Gloria, a musician. As the novel opens, he sees a couple, Matt and Cara, who seem to be perfectly happy—and so he decides to befriend both with the hope of putting their marriage to the test and obtaining material for a new novel along the way. “I have come to regard every relationship as its own intimate deception,” he says early in the book, and some of the tension in the novel arises as he attempts to prove himself right, treating the very real lives around him as though they’re as malleable as characters in a book. Gillis periodically incorporates passages from Eric’s work in progress, demonstrating the gulf between his imagined version of Cara and Matt and the actual version of the couple. The five main characters each have wildly different takes on the nature of love and creative expression, and the discussions that they have are lively. Gillis doesn’t let Eric’s more controlling or condescending tendencies go unnoticed: at one point, he quips to Gloria, “What do you know about Berryman?” It’s a heady book that also acknowledges the dangers of headiness.
A smart chamber drama about the ways aesthetics can govern lives—and, at times, can make people toxic to those around them.