Matthew is out of a job, down on his luck in Brooklyn and still grieving over his father’s disgraceful disappearance years ago. He feels sincere gratitude to his cousin and childhood friend, Charlie, for an invitation to spend the summer with him and his wife, Chloe, at their beautiful house in the mountains of New York State. There, he can try to get his life back in shape.
Sounds placid enough, doesn’t it? How can this seemingly innocuous scenario go so quickly and inexorably to hell in James Lasdun’s new psychological thriller, The Fall Guy?
One reason, I think, is because the author is a poet first. Much like his peers James Dickey and Stephen Dobyns, Lasdun’s poetic talent has veered toward the genre of criminal suspense. All three poet-novelists have the natural capacity to wield words with uncanny and disorienting power, exposing the shocking capacity of ordinary human beings to act out their darkest fears and desires. Nicely complicating Lasdun’s case is the fact that he’s a Brit, but longtime resident of the United States, and therefore able to chart the complicated axis of two cultures separated by the same language.
At the heart of this hypnotic narrative lies Matthew’s barely concealed passion for Chloe. What begins in Matthew’s mind as a strong feeling of connection with his cousin’s wife undergoes a monstrous transformation, in which all three individuals—the two cousins and the beloved woman between them—play a guilty role. Long-buried sins from their shared history now rise up with an inexorable vengeance. There is no moral lesson at work in the novel, only a ruthless unfolding of events, in which love is undone by selfishness.
The Fall Guy has the quality of a dream that follows its own terrible logic, impossible to break free from, never to be forgotten after you wake up.