Once I’d realised the echoes in the characters and the themes, a host of smaller details hit me with their reverberations: in both novels there are grand parties that are thrown with total abandon; both festivities happen at sumptuous mansions, with romantic turrets and banks of lawns; later, there are fateful gunshots in each; and episodes of looking up at windows, waiting for lights to signal behind the curtains.
What this narration achieves is to bridge the gap between the ghastly facts we read in the news and the internal mind of the perpetrator. The author has brilliantly imagined all the steps of self-justification; after all, how could anyone steel themselves to do such things?
The reader is inevitably searching for the eventual links between the two narratives; and, intriguingly, so is Ted, the contemporary father, hunting for these same explanations in his life, but cleverly the reader is just ahead of poor Ted in realising the inevitable denouement. When you can see you have only a few pages to go, and how on earth will the author resolve the conundrum, she teases you yet again with a ‘not quite yet’, until eventually the inevitable occurs.
Meyer chose as his setting the Mon Valley near Pittsburgh, a wasted post-industrial region, where the relics of the abandoned steel industry stand rusting in the landscape, and there is no employment for the next generation. So this turns out to be the antithesis of the Great American Dream: no job prospects, no optimism, and the only way up is out.
It’s all rather a macabre jumble of plot lines; for even the apparently sane characters are grossly exaggerated, like Martin who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, so tapes up his windows to keep out the light, and yet implausibly leaves his flat door open.
Just 122 generously spaced pages, with a luscious matt laminate cover of alternating panels of cadmium yellow and ultramarine, abutting just over the edge of the flaps to give a pleasing juxtaposition of tones, which represent the author’s fantasies of a blue-doored followed by a yellow-doored secret world…
The characters tend to be absolute goodies and baddies, as in childhood stories, but they still rouse our sympathy or antipathy when they re-enter the stage. You also feel flashes of recognition across the procession of characters – an unsettling edge of déjà vu, at the double-take of coincidence over time.