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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More Recognizable Cannibals

In my experience, many ruthless characters in fiction are either sociopaths or so malevolent they strain credibility. In her exceptional novel "The Woman Upstairs" (2013), Claire Messud upends that paradigm. Unlike the evil types that populate many books, both artist Sirena Shahid and her equally manipulative husband Skandar are wholly believable. Characters this nuanced linger longer in the memory, a bit like actual memories of people I've known like them. People who have done some minor damage to me.

"How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that". So begins and ends the book in the inimitable and instantly captivating voice of Nora Eldridge, a 42 year old never married 3rd grade teacher. Nora's entree into the Shahid wonderland comes after their son Reza is bullied at her school. Soon after, Nora's own postponed artistic dreams are re-kindled when Sirena alluringly asks her to share a rented space so they can both create. Now pick up the book and see where this talented author takes you.

And when you finish it, tell me either online or off, about people you've known like Sirena and Skandar. How did you feel after those people were done with you? What warning signs did you ignore early in the game, like Nora does and I have, that later on embarrassed you? In the future, I'm thinking I'll take my chances with the guy who eats the liver, fava beans and fine Chianti - easier to spot.

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