Thuy On

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Short­hand tags used to de­note dif­fer­ent sub­gen­res are com­mon in pub­lish­ing th­ese days. Among the many la­bels there is tar­tan noir, tart noir, Scandi lit, cli-fi, clit lit, lad lit and even schtick lit. A fairly re­cent new­comer is do­mes­tic noir, a work of psy­cho­log­i­cal sus­pense set in and around the con­fines of home that plays around with the men­tal and emo­tional in­sta­bil­ity of its pro­tag­o­nists. Kim Lock’s se­cond novel is billed as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this type of kitchen-sink thriller, of which Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train and Gil­lian Flynn’s Gone Girl are two of the bet­ter-known ex­am­ples. Like I Can Love, how­ever, is not so much a who­dun­nit as a why­dun­nit.

When Jenna Ru­dolph, 26, com­mits sui­cide in the bath­tub, she leaves be­hind a raft of unan­swered ques­tions, and the book ex­plores the mo­ti­va­tions that led to her death. Ev­ery­one plays the blame game but cul­pa­bil­ity is widely, al­beit un­evenly dis­trib­uted to those left be­hind. Jenna’s best friend, Fair­lie Win­ter, is lost in a fog of self-pity­ing be­wil­der­ment. The two had been es­tranged for a while, their once close re­la­tion­ship lan­guish­ing af­ter Jenna mar­ried and had a child — Fair­lie blames Jenna’s hus­band, Ark, for coax­ing her friend away from her.

Lock’s nar­ra­tive, evenly split into al­ter­nate “then” and “now” chap­ters, charts the events that pre­ceded and fol­lowed the dis­cov­ery in the bath­room. Even­tu­ally, a let­ter and a key — con­ve­niently dis­cov­ered — help Fair­lie un­spool the tightly wound ball of se­crets that Jenna held close to her chest. De­spite their stark phys­i­cal and tem­per­a­men­tal dif­fer­ences (Fair­lie is black, pudgy and easy­go­ing; Jenna, white, thin and highly strung), their friend­ship weath­ered many tri­als un­til that most cliched dis­rup­tion of all — a man — en­tered the scene.

One of the tenets of th­ese psy­cho­log­i­cal dra­mas is that the reader is privy to cer­tain in­for­ma­tion with­held from its lead char­ac­ters, and so even though Ark’s oily charms se­duced Jenna, we soon learn he’s the quin­tes­sen­tial golden boy whose shiny ex­te­rior hides a slimy core. From an af­flu­ent back­ground, pri­vately ed­u­cated and heir to a thriv­ing vine­yard busi­ness, Ark is en­am­oured of the idea of us­ing Jenna as a bauble to off­set his suc­cess but his ma­nip­u­la­tions and con­trol­ling per­son­al­ity grad­u­ally bleed through his blandly in­of­fen­sive shell, even though for Jenna he was ini­tially “an anal­gesic, a penance and an of­fer­ing, and she ac­cepted it with wel­come greed”.

There’s also a par­al­lel plot in­volv­ing decades-old de­ci­sions made by Jenna’s mother, Eve­lyn, who re­mains un­seen un­til the end but whose pres­ence is felt through­out via a se­ries of let­ters to her daugh­ter that Lock re­leases clum­sily in drip-feed fash­ion to main­tain sus­pense and de­lay the in­evitable bomb­shell.

Like I Can Love be­longs on the com­mer­cial rather than lit­er­ary end of the spec­trum in terms of its prose, which is ser­vice­able but does not at­tempt any tech­ni­colour flour­ishes. Lock is good at cre­at­ing sym­pa­thetic fe­male char­ac­ters; Fair­lie is as lik­able (and fal­li­ble) as Amy in her de­but novel about a Dar­win-based “army wife” in Peace, Love and Khaki Socks (2013). How­ever, Lock is less skilled at map­ping cred­i­ble plot Like I Can Love By Kim Lock Pan Macmil­lan, pp336, $29.99 The Light on the Wa­ter By Olga Lorenzo Allen & Un­win, pp360, $29.99

Au­thor Kim Lock’s Like I Can Love falls into the cat­e­gory of do­mes­tic noir

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