Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The Girl with a Clock for a HeartThe Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”I always knew it was temporary. Being Audrey was temporary. I had become this different person, this person I’d rather have been--you know, in school, doing well, with a boyfriend, a boyfriend like you--but it was like I had a secret disease, or there was this clock inside of me, ticking like a heart, and at any moment an alarm would go off and Audrey Beck would no longer exist. She’d die and I’d have to go back to being Liana Decter. God, it’s like a dream now….”

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With this book title Peter Swanson was paying homage to other noir books.

I have a crazy girlfriend story.
I have an even better crazy stalker story, but I’m not going to tell you about either one of them because George Foss has a better story, a tale of deceit, a yarn woven with woe, a first love that might have lasted forever, and murder most foul.

George is an ordinary guy, maybe so ordinary that you might even think he is extraordinary. He is in his early forties. He keeps the accounting books for a Boston literary magazine. He made himself indispensable, so even when the inevitable downsizing started to leave empty desks and tragically orphaned coffee mugs in it’s wake, he survived.

He has a girlfriend named Irene though girlfriend might be imprecise. They have been friends a long time, but somehow in the long arc of their relationship things never quite came together for them to get married. They are more than friends with benefits, more like ex-spouses who still like each other and fool around with each other between attempts at relationships with other people. Although even when they are seeing other people there is no let up with seeing each other. One could say their relationship is complicated, but really it is rather uncomplicated.

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George has this rent controlled attic apartment with slanted walls and too many, just enough, bookshelves stuffed with...wait for it...books. Exactly what BOOKshelves were designed to hold. He goes to the same bar, maybe not everyday but most days, and watches the Red Sox. Irene usually meets him there and they give each other updates on the small matters of their well organized lives.

And then he sees his bar.

The girl he’d tried to forget about.

The girl that was unforgettable.

Audrey Beck/Liana Decker or she could have just as easily been Phyllis Dietrichson (Double Indemnity) /Kitty Collins(The Killers)/ Brigid O'Shaughnessy (The Maltese Falcon)

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She is a witches’ brew of femme fatales. She is the Mata Hari of George Foss’s life. He knew her as Audrey first until he discovered she was Liana. It is now becoming nearly impossible to shed our skins and assume new identities. We used to be able to ride the train from Kansas to California and somewhere around Arizona start to call ourselves by a different name. Those days are long past as we are compressed more and more into our own identities. We are stuck with ourselves unable to shake off our past or ever really get a fresh start.

Don’t get the impression that I’m feeling any sympathy for Liana because that would be a mistake.

Like a moth to the flame he has to go talk to her, after all, she was sitting in HIS BAR.

She needs help. She needs the kind of help that at first you laugh about and then she convinces you with glistening tears and a series of beautifully manipulated body signals that she is desperate. Thus, it became perfectly logical that George was going to return nearly half a million stolen dollars to her ex-boss, ex-lover for her.

That is crazy!

Why would you even contemplate such a thing George?

It is embarrassing for me to reveal this, and it is hard to explain it in such a way that it doesn’t seem stupid, but ultimately, he did it, because he wanted to get laid. Sex and gasoline make the world go around so don’t discount the importance of such a potential event in a forty something man’s life. And it isn’t as if we are just talking about sex, ordinary sex, this was mind blowing sex...fireworks, brass band playing, howling at the moon sex. This was one of those moments that when we are on our deathbed and the sepia tone memory of this event floats into focus that we will grin. It might even take some of the sting out of dying.

Was it worth the punch to the kidneys compliments of Donnie Jenks?

No, of course not.

Yes, yes, of course it was. So you piss blood for a week. It will heal.

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Ava Gardner in The Killers. A man would do a lot of foolish things for a woman like that.

This is a plot driven novel, so I can’t talk about the plot. Let’s just say that George Foss gets taken on the ride of his life and if he survives it you will buy the beers for him all night long to hear the story. You will remember Liana Decker’s name for the rest of your life. Every time she swims into your memory you will shake your head, shiver, and thank all that is holy for your amazingly pedestrian significant other. This was a terrific, perfect Sunday afternoon read. I kept muttering to myself and kept flipping pages. The ending will wake you up in the middle of the night and have you, it can’t be!

Peter Swanson hit the Hollywood lottery. The movie rights have been sold. James Marsh will be directing. Chris Coen will be producing. It should make a spectacular movie. My vote is for Ethan Hawke (43) cast as George Foss. I would like to see Ali Larter (38) cast as Liana Decker and Cristina Ricci (34) cast as Irene.

***4.25 stars out of 5 and rising.***

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