I first read this 1984 book in the mid-1990s after enjoying Jane Smiley’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner A Thousand Acres. I was disappointed because I expected more spooky police work and/or big-city thrills and chills. As a film noir fan, I’m used to harsher and darker crime stories
Alice Ellis is a Midwestern refugee living in Manhattan. Still recovering from a painful divorce, she depends on the companionship and camaraderie of a tightly knit circle of friends. At the center of this circle is a rock band struggling to navigate New York’s erratic music scene, and an apartment/practice space with approximately fifty key-holders. One sunny day, Alice enters the apartment and finds two of the band members shot dead. As the double-murder sends waves of shock through their lives, this group of friends begins to unravel, and dangerous secrets are revealed one by one. When Alice begins to notice things amiss in her own apartment, the tension breaks out as it occurs to her that she is not the only person with a key, and she may not get a chance to change the locks.
Jane Smiley applies her distinctive rendering of time, place, and the enigmatic intricacies of personal relationships to the twists and turns of suspense. The result is a brilliant literary thriller that will keep readers guessing up to its final, shocking conclusion.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t ready for the “enigmatic intricacies of personal relationships” in 1995. Or perhaps I’ve either mellowed or become more eclectic in my reading since then. Even so, I’ll probably never really grok the characters because they’re New Yorkers who enjoy subways, walking, lots of people, and all the other strangenesses I experienced whenever I visited NYC.
(I lived briefly in Syracuse as a kid, one of my brothers was born there, and then I went back there for grad school, but it’s on a different planet than the big city.)
The book is keeping my attention this time which says a lot for keeping books on one’s shelves and trying them out again later.