Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Literary Fiction/Suspense
Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words
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“Bob Waldner was born and raised in New Jersey, before heading off to Duke University and the University of Michigan Law School. He practices law in New York, where he lives with his wife, Erinn, and his daughters Maureen and Madeleine. Someday, he hopes to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up.”
For more, visit the author’s website.
“Jack Caufield never imagined that he would wake up one day and find a dead woman in his bed. That sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen to guys like him. He was on his way to law school, but instead of fielding Socratic questions from law professors, he finds himself facing the third degree from a bunch of angry cops. Despite their efforts, they find nothing incriminating, and Jack is allowed to get on with his education and his life. Over the next fifteen years, he becomes a modestly successful corporate lawyer, a well-paid but insignificant cog in the Wall Street machine. He's resigned to playing a disappointing role in the system that he has come to disdain, until he learns that his encounter with that unlucky girl may not have been coincidental.”
An appraisal of Peripheral Involvement presents a quandary. How much of a reader’s expectations of and reactions to a book should be colored by what could reasonably be anticipated based on genre? A simple example with an obvious correct answer would be a book with a budding romance as its focus. If presented as contemporary fiction, chick-lit, or almost any other genre, anything might happen to that relationship. However, if the story is presented as in the romance genre, the promise of a happily ever after ending is inviolate and if it isn’t delivered, the majority of romance readers would feel cheated. But few genre conventions are as solidified and unyielding as that one.
Which brings us back to the book at hand. Presented as literary fiction, a classification many view as the non-genre genre, often marked by a more serious tone, slower pacing, and a particular style of writing described as “elegant” or “lyrical.” Last, literary fiction focuses more on character than plot. However, the plot of Peripheral Involvement, although slow paced, feels much like a suspense or thriller novel.
Finally I’ve laid the foundation to explain my thoughts on Peripheral Involvement. If you feel like I’ve taken too long to get to the point, you can bail now, because literary fiction isn’t going to be your thing anyway. If I were judging this book as a suspense novel, where the focus is going to be more on the plot than the characters, I’d have complaints about going into way too many details, spending an inordinate amount of time in the narrator’s head, and the slow pace that is largely the consequence of both of those things. While I didn’t find the writing style especially literary, all the other attributes were there, so I can’t really quibble with classifying this book that way.
However, the focus on character more than plot in literary fiction doesn’t mean plot doesn’t matter, which I’ll come back to shortly. First, a bit about characters. Often a review will describe a main character as “likable.” Does it matter? Yes and no. The protagonist or main character doesn’t have to be likable, but you do have to care what happens to him or her or at least how the story turns out. Likable is often shorthand to say, “I cared what happened to this fictional character.” Some call that lazy, but since I’m guilty of doing it all the time, I’ll avoid characterizing it as that. I didn’t find the protagonist Jack very likable at all. But I did care what happened, which brings us back to plot.
There were two critical mysteries in this story involving Jack. They were whether there was something more to the death of a girl in his bed than the official conclusion (an event from early in the story) and later on the question of what the truth of the situation was surrounding the FBI agent from that long ago case who contacted him. Since the second of these mysteries happens around the peak of the story I don’t think I should go into any detail other than to say that few, if any, questions were answered about the mysteries, while many more were raised. What should have been the buildup to the climax of the story ended up feeling more like mutual fake orgasms. A pointless exercise.
A small number of typos and other copyediting/proofreading misses including multiple misuses of the phrase “all of the sudden” instead of the proper “all of a sudden.”
Rating: *** Three Stars