Debut novelist Laura Sims brings us Looker, to be published in January 2019. Although promoted as partly a “propulsive Hitchcockian thriller,” Looker deserves to be read as a psychological suspense story. It’s a quick read; I finished it within a few hours and was met with a logical, albeit abrupt, denouement.
We’re in the mind exclusively of the unidentified narrator, an adjunct lecturer teaching poetry at a community college. Her husband has split, she has suffered through unsuccessful fertility treatment, and a shining jewel of a woman happens to live nearby, eliciting jealousy and obsession in our narrator. The woman, a rich and famous actress with bountiful offspring, a handsome, present husband, and doting staff (the gall!) serves as the impetus for the narrator’s downward spiral, at which the reader can’t help but give a head-shake for its abject pathos.
The narrator alienates others and isolates herself in true psychological suspense style. None of the secondary characters are fully fleshed out; we see them through the filter of our narrator’s terse impressions and they are all villainous in some way: the elderly neighbor who asks after the vanished husband; her students; even an old work acquaintance with whom the narrator lunches. The worst is the actress, whom the narrator stares at through her blinds-free window. She also collects the actress’ cast-offs, so there’s a bit of hoarding. A cat is also used throughout as a blunt-force literary device. And there’s a neighborhood block party that the narrator attends in earnest; although the reader is left wondering why a depressed person would choose to jump into the gentrified tableau of family frivolity. But she wants to talk to the actress, who may or may not be there. Or does she want to be the actress? It’s never clear.
Looker is entertaining in the sense that the reader has a voyeuristic view of misery, despair, and one woman’s powerlessness, or refusal, to stop it all. One strength of Looker is its smirk-worthy tone: you can hear the sardonic sneer in the narrator’s voice as she gives us one acerbic observation after another. If the narrator was in a better frame of mind, she might even be considered bitingly funny.