Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cheap Trick

Now You See Him
by Eli Gottlieb
Published by Harper Perennial
2 Out of 5 Stars

Nick Framingham is coping, albeit poorly, with the loss of his best friend, Rob Castor, a writer of some repute whose devil-may-care attitude the more introverted Nick envied throughout their childhood. We know from the beginning that Rob killed his girlfriend and then himself, leading to a media firestorm that elevates his fame following his final hours and makes his small hometown the center of national attention. What we don't know is why Nick, months later, is refusing to move on and instead is willingly swallowed by the black hole of grief. And we're not the only ones: his wife doesn't understand, his colleagues don't understand, his friends don't understand. But Nick is at risk of losing much more, including his career, his wife, and his children if he doesn't make peace with the past and a friend who seemed self-centered and charmless at his best. 


Now You See Him is not what I expected. I thought I was getting a taut literary thriller full of suspense (because that's what the blurb blatantly led me to believe) and instead I got a species of character I find increasingly frustrating and tedious: the navel gazing middle-aged male whining his way through a midlife crisis. Do I empathize with Nick's grief? Sure, but he doesn't make it easy for me to do so. He's not a likable guy (no one in this novel is likable) and seems intent on his own self-destruction. His obsession with Rob's death seems creepy to the nth power and the reader is constantly aware of the fact that Nick is withholding something, but hoards the truth with a Gollum-like "my precious" tenacity. When we are finally given explanation for why his friend's death continues to reverberate throughout his own existence, it's too little much too late and has all the subtlety of a Greek tragedy. It provides perspective, but by that point my disgust with Nick had reached such monumental proportions that I simply couldn't forgive much of what he had already done.

So why a 2 star? Gottlieb can write beautifully and offers some profound and genuine moments that capture the contemplation of grief, but there's also cringe-worthy, soap opera dialogue and the final reveal is a bit of "ta-da!" literary trickery that, provided up front, could have redeemed Nick in the reader's eyes.

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