The Suburban Abyss, by Cathryn Grant
Publisher: D2C Perspectives
392 pages, paperback
Published November 2012
Source: Goodreads First-Reads
One of the aspects of many Hitchcock’s films is his ability to identify and relate the terrifying in the everyday and familiar, most notably in “Shadow of a Doubt”. I immediately thought of this when reading the summary for the novel and the description of ‘making the mundane menacing’. Unfortunately I was largely disappointed with the novel, it is an intriguing concept, but the execution failed for me.
The novel focuses on three households as they deal with an intrusive building project adjacent to their homes. Annoyance and minor suburban strife slowly envelope each of their private lives and inter-relations until a moment (near the end) when it erupts in murder. One problem arises in the slow build to the eventual catastrophe, it is a prolonged and not terribly interesting journey to get there. While Grant flirts with some interesting themes here and there, such as the nature of communication, privacy, friends, and strangers, she doesn’t dwell with them long, moving directly into a stream of conversation to reassert character traits already familiar, and moving one inch forward into the plot.
Conversations. The dialogue in the novel kept me from liking it fairly well as a simple entertaining read. To her credit, Grant does make each character unique and she does well in making them think and carry out actions that establish their psychology well. But they are all unreliable, lying to themselves above all, and the occasional inconsistencies make it hard to tell if they are subtle indications of the character’s underlying instability, or errors on the author’s part. They each blurt out statements and questions that appear absurdly rude, they do this a lot. I suspect this makes it easier to get plot points out to the reader, but it makes the characters appear very unrealistic.
Perhaps this behavior goes into the whole ‘menace in the mundane’ idea, but this becomes the problem with that kind of tactic when making a story. Exaggerating the mundane to to make it menacing and interesting also makes it seem unbelievable and forced. Or worse, if it fails in that, it remains mundane, and bores. There is a fine artistic line in making it work, but I simply didn’t see that here.
At the end I’m sure many will disagree with me and find this a rewarding entertaining read. There is ironic humor, a bit of romance, a bit of crime, characters who may be in situations that are familiar, etc. Grant has been published in Ellery Queen & Hitchock’s magazines and has gained other recognition for her short work. I realize that this novel has no aspect that couldn’t have been done just as well in a novella/novelette and I think could have been much more impactful and interesting in that form with an editor.