i know this book feels scorned, borrowed from work ONLY to fill the one-day reading gap before Black Leopard, Red Wolf came out. i keep telling it i was going to read it anyway, although between you and me, i was most likely going to wait for paperback because 25 dollars for a book with fewer than 200 pages that’s not photos of kittens? that’s bonkers.
there’s no need for this book to pout, though, because not only did it serve the exact purpose i needed it to – being my short reading bridge between bardugo-and-james -but it was also a bridge i enjoyed crossing.
in the grand tradition of Eileen, Notes from Underground, American Psycho, etc, Looker is a claustrophobic character study of an antiheroic unreliable narrator, wedging the reader right up in the psychological landscape of a woman in the violent throes of a spiraling nervous breakdown after a series of failures and disappointments have frayed her nerves, causing her to succumb to her lonely despair and rage, grasping at anything to stop her spinning.
her anchor of choice is a fixation on her neighbors: a famous actress, her screenwriter husband, and their children. what was once a harmless proximity-fascination with the actress; that nyfc thrill of “oooh, we live near a celebrity!” becomes a full-blown obsession whose emotional tone is as unstable as everything else in the narrator’s life; shifting back and forth between adoration and envy, wanting to befriend her and wanting to destroy her, admiration, jealousy, covetousness – fetishizing this woman and her “things” into a symbolic representation of everything she herself has lost.
Later that same night, I pause by her house on my way home from work. Lights on in the kitchen. The actress stands at the island, opening a bottle of wine. Children in bed. The husband upstairs somewhere. Alone with a bottle of wine, how luxurious. I’ll be alone with one, too, in a few minutes, but the quality of her aloneness differs from mine. Hers is fuller: surrounded, swaddled even — an island on whose shores laps a vibrant, busy sea. Her aloneness is temporary; mine is infinite. Mine spreads out from the center like a puddle, muddying everything it touches.
the narrator’s husband nathan has just moved out of their posh-but-poorly maintained brownstone in what i assume is park slope, after round after round of IVF treatment has left her exhausted, depressed, and still childless. and – man – that whole process of struggling to conceive sounds barbaric and horrible.
she teaches adult education at “an overpriced, second-rate city school,” but enrollment has dwindled and she only has one poetry class, leaving the bulk of her time wide-open for painful reflection and succumbing to bad impulses, like a sexual preoccupation with one of her male students and the voyeuristic ritual of staring through her neighbor’s kitchen window – treating her private space like a scene from one of the actress’ movies, which she watches and rewatches night after night. she has few friends, and her only companion is cat, the… cat that nathan left behind and whom she had always disliked until nathan tries to make arrangements to retrieve her and then cat becomes the last strand tethering her to sanity.
her head is messy, chaotic, full of fantasy and hallucination, memory gaps and emotional extremes. she feels like a ‘woman-shaped shadow,’ imagining herself unseen, invisible, and her sense of how she is perceived by others when she is seen is all highs and lows; sometimes pitied, sometimes rallying herself into a theatrical version of herself, where she imagines all eyes are on her, awed by her stage glamor and confidence.
some of it hit a little too close to home, in a “there but for the” way: the professional and personal disappointments, the strain of maintaining the façade that everything’s A-OK, being surrounded by people more affluent and seemingly untroubled when you feel like a hunched-over cave troll flattened by vicious mood swings… and then that self-destructive but also purely relieved feeling in letting it all collapse at once, the papercut pleasure in one’s own defeat like a dog rolling in stink. it’s a slippery slope into the straightjacket-hug of madness – it begins with the instagram-stalking of a rival and before you know it, the line between fantasy and action have blurred and you’re filling the spare room intended for your never-coming baby with a celebrity’s garbage.
don’t let it come to that. use this book as cautionary tale. note to self: find recipe for orzo-watermelon salad. mirror narrator in no other way.
this is me borrowing the shortest book – the shortest book i actually wanted to read- from work, because i told myself no matter what i’m reading on feb 4, the MOMENT my copy of Black Leopard, Red Wolf gets here on the 5th, that’s the only book i will have eyes for. so hopefully i’ll have enough reading time today for a one-day read because i would hate to throw a borrowed book against the wall in my haste to get my marlon james fix.