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Pickle Me This

August 26, 2012

Suspicion by Rachel Wyatt

Of course, there’s been that one book that everyone’s been talking about this summer, but in more discerning circles, that one book has been Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I was sold on it by buzzing from reliable sources, as well as back cover blurbs by Kate Atkinson, Laura Lippman and Kate Christensen, which is some kind of pedigree. I devoured Gone Girl the first day of my vacation last month, and adored how Flynn sent-up and played with tropes of the mystery and thriller genres in her smart, funny, and very contemporary novel. It was a “whodunnit” in which we (thought we) knew “who”, but the “it” remained the question, compelling us through a whirligig of twists and turns.

In her new novel Suspicion, Rachel Wyatt has given us a Canadian version of Gillian Flynn’s summer sensation. Similarly, a woman has gone missing, and suspicion falls upon her husband. The backdrop to the story is a troubled economy that might drive anyone’s desparation, and it turns out that few people  in the supposedly close-knit community of Ghills Lake know their neighbours quite as well as they should. And that those who do know a little too much…

The twist in Suspicion, however, is that the “it” in “whodunnit” is precisely nothing, and the “who” is no one. Candace Wilson is missing, not because her husband did her in to get sympathy for his unpopular development project that threatens to mar the waterfront in their BC interior community, and not because her ex-lover’s wife killed her out of spite (and besides, how could she from her wheelchair?) and not because her resentful sister had finally had enough. No, as Wyatt makes clear from the start, Candace has stumbled into a deep hole hidden in the ground (not metaphorical) and she has broken her leg. She is trapped in the hole with no hope of rescue, what with everyone being all-consumed by far more dramatic theories involving murder, kidnapping, and scandalous trysts.

As with Flynn’s book, the characters in Suspicion find themselves unwitting players in a plot well-recognized from books, movies and TV. Against all their instincts and best intentions, they find themselves playing to type, the suspicious husband looking even more suspicious after he gets arrested for driving drunk, acts strange in police interviews and sleeps with his sister-in-law. The sister-in-law too is pulled between her own suspicions, her feelings for her sister’s husband, and her shameful feelings of relief about her sister being gone.

Other characters begin to manipulate the story for their own purposes, the wheelchair-bound wife of Candace’s ex-lover sharing her own theories on the internet forum where she commands authority, Candace’s sister’s husband finding himself overwhelmed by visions of Candace’s whereabouts which he employs in his mediocre art, and a journalist who’s turned up in town searching for some local colour is spinning her own impossible version of events. The police chase up one hopeless lead after another, all the while Candace is lying underground, cold and hungry and losing consciousness.

Suspicion is a literary trick masquerading as a great suspense novel, a story with meta-elements in which characters must reconcile the fact that they’ve become characters. Some resist, others revel, and we are shown how story, plot and drama are born in ordinary places, in ordinary lives. The only problem with this approach, of course, is that Wyatt’s characters acting as stock-characters can begin to seem a little too much like stock-characters, at times more to due sloppy plotting than a literary sleight-of-hand. There are a few too many scenes with hysterical women fleeing rooms in tears, with men struggling to contain inexpressible rage, smarmy types too eager to capitalize on Candace’s misfortune. There is a fine line between those characters who think they’re people on a page, and the people on a page after all. Even if they’re actually people on a page (and here is where my argument begins to look like the girl on the Borax box who’s holding a Borax box on into infinity).

But for the most part, Wyatt has drawn this line well, and ultimately, Suspicion is successful. Like Gone Girl, it’s a book very much of its time and place, very evocotively “there and now”. And while readers will come for the promises of gripping suspense, they’ll stay for the literary play, and the novel’s reflections on modern life, and love and marriage.

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