I’ve always been drawn to psychological novels that show the dark side…the internal struggles that complex intelligent characters have to wrestle with. These three new superbly crafted novels definitely have that “noir” feeling, with their cinematic intensity and vivid characters. Individuals struggle to trust each other in a world of warped intentions and hidden cons, as danger and violence loom ominously in the background.
Ed King by David Guterson portrays the dark side of ambition and sexual attraction. Set in the Seattle area, the book’s main character rockets to success with the rise of the Internet as he becomes the “King of Search.” He becomes a tycoon and a celebrity, but he knows nothing of his own origin. Namely that he was a foundling baby abandoned by a teen mother who used him to con child support payments from an older man. Years later the two meet in the dark shadow of incest, as Ed’s brilliant but impulsive life spirals out of control.
Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks, is set in a sunny resort area of Florida and portrays a shadow life that few of us know about. The main character is a young sex offender who is living (with his huge pet iguana) in a colony of homeless men underneath a causeway. A sociology professor arrives to interview the men and is drawn to the fatalistic innocence of “the Kid,” as the man calls himself. “The Professor” patiently listens and yanks the young man out of his profound solitude, and we see hidden reserves of emotion tangled up in the secrets that both men hide. Is it possible to feel empathy for someone caught in the ranks of the “most hated” in our society?
Snowdrops by Andrew Miller takes us to a tense, threatening time in Moscow during the early 2000’s. Nick, a young attorney, has been sent by a London-based corporation to grab a share of Russia’s gushing oil revenues. All around him is the flash of new wealth, thriving on decadence and corruption, while the underclass stumbles through another cruelly cold winter. Dealing with businesses that may be shells, and with people who will do anything to survive, brings out Nick’s dark side. He savors the sensual delights of his lover Masha, but she seems to be hiding secrets from him. Then her strange family members pull him into a dangerous role that he does not want to play.