Review by Linda Richards

 

 

  

 

 

Fear

by Simon Lane

Published by Bridge Works

1998


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In many ways, Fear is a three-sided suspense novel without any of the usual suspects. Set in contemporary Paris, Fear is the main character. Mr. Fear, to some: but mostly Fear: and if he has a first name, I didn't catch it.

Fear is a writer of the type that is usually prefaced by the word starving. He doesn't live in a garret, but his grotty rooms are garret-like enough for a modern character. Fear has no money: this is central to the central theme. He has no money and he owes quite a lot of it: to fellow artists, local restaurants, friends: all of whom he tries -- with varying degrees of success -- to avoid:

Fear swore. He had turned off the ringer on the telephone, and he had turned down the volume on the answering machine, and he had wrapped the answering machine in a sweater, and he had put the answering machine and the sweater into his suitcase and jammed it shut, cutting a hole in the lip of the case with his Swiss army knife so that the lead would be able to pass through. But he could still hear a distant click when someone called, followed by his own voice, muffled, unreal, echoing within the case as if he, and not just the tape, were lodged inside.

Lane's humor is sufficiently understated that children of the soundtrack generation might not know where to laugh. Somehow, that makes it funnier still.

It's been long enough since Fear wrote anything financially successful that he it's a fading memory: if it ever happened at all. Though he writes not for riches, but rather because it was the thing he did:

And while he walked, he thought about himself and his world, and he knew that all he had was his writing, however good or bad it might be; he knew that it was the only thing that kept him going...

The combination of no money, piles of debt and no real project to work on leaves him hungry in many ways, so when his bank manager suggests he think of something more commercial to work on, Fear doesn't discount the idea out of hand.

Commercial?

Yes. Commercial. An erotic novel, perhaps.

The work Fear begins becomes a sub-text in the novel, as we follow his characters through their physical and emotional contortions and watch the hungers that are -- not surprisingly -- not entirely unlike Fear's own.

Fear is both sweetly sexy and starkly intellectual, a combination that is somewhat endearing all by itself. Lane manipulates words beautifully and the simple elegance of his language makes the story an easy one to follow:

Fear looked through the window, and the ball bounced across the courtyard. One of the Arab boys ran past Eton's window and kicked it back toward the opposite end. A woman cried out to his right, the Arab boy laughed, a truck could be heard racing down the street, and the sun rose higher in the sky, making Fear wipe his brow as if he had undertaken a journey and stopped for a moment in the shade somewhere to rest.


However, there is an emotional distance that is never really breached, a fact that makes it difficult to become completely involved with Fear and his trials and tribulations. He is an amusing character. He is certainly an interesting character. But the sleights of hand by which a novelist creates him as a living and breathing character that readers care deeply about never really takes place. We are left with a complete, well written story that somehow never sets the imagination alight in the way that favorite novels must.

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Blue Murder, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.