I'll preface this review by saying that I picked this book up at a used book sale held by a church in my hometown. On the last day of the sale, they have a ridiculous deal where you pay $3.00 for all the books you can stuff into a bag. (Coincidentally, I paid $15 for 48 books - 27 of them hardbacks in near new condition - mind-blowing stuff here). Because the books are so cheap, I get a bit grabby and end up choosing books I wouldn't normally purchase at full price. This is one of those books.
It's written by Lauren Kelly who - I didn't notice until I got home - is a pseudonym of Joyce Carol Oates. I'm not a huge fan, but I'm not prejudiced against her brand of contemporary fiction. In fact, I rather liked a sick little book I read awhile back called Zombie and Blonde has been in my "own-but-have-yet-to-read" pile for years. It was advertised on the front cover as "a novel of suspense," so I was eager to give it a quick read and see what it was all about. I finished it in just over a few hours, staying up late into the night to read it (really, not such an endorsement considering I'm nine months pregnant and not sleeping much to begin with).
The tale bounces back and forth between the early 1970s and a span of a few months in 1993, following a doll-faced awkward intellectual Lorraine (now known as Lara) Quade. A particularly harrowing childhood has left Lorraine/Lara scarred - both emotionally and physically - and this book chronicles her struggles to understand the past in order to live more fully in the future. When Lorraine receives an anonymous envelope with a ticket to an event on campus, she is put into contact with another party, Zederick Dewe, who is the recipient of the same strange gift. On the surface, the two have little in common; however, a strange, erotic charge binds them together which sets their strange, tragic relationship spiraling out of control.
At the beginning of the novel, I was entranced by Oates' lyrical language and mesmerizing back-and-forth between the harrowing past and the mysterious present. I was really into the story, but around the 50 page mark, I was hit by the "oh, crap, I know exactly where this is going" sense of accomplishment/defeat. And, indeed, I had figured out the mystery connection - which left the so-called "novel of suspense" feeling not so suspenseful. Sometimes, this doesn't necessarily taint the rest of the read. Unfortunately, this time, the wind was sucked entirely out of my proverbial sails, and I spent the rest of the book cursing my close-reading skills.
Likewise, my infatuation with Lorraine and Zederick waned as the book progressed. Don't get me wrong - I love a dangerous, slightly dirty, bad boy as much as the next girl. In my youth, I'd been known to get starry-eyed over some fairly questionable characters with less than honorable morals and hygiene habits. I may be getting old. I may be too pregnant to appreciate the thought of an overly aggressive lover. Of course, when things get physically and emotionally abusive, I draw the line and disconnect from any of the character's previous charm. I also develop a lack of patience for any characters that don't react the same way. Somehow, I became emotionally disconnected from both Lorraine and Zederick in one foul swoop.
Was it terrible? No, I really liked the back story - the abuse, the abandonment, the childhood misunderstanding and mystery. It was just as the story progressed - I became less and less enthralled with the present day incarnation of Lorraine's character. Final verdict: it was worth the few hours and negligible amount of money that I spent on it.