Herman Koch. Summer House with Swimming Pool. New York: Hogarth/Crown Publishing Group, (translation) 2014.
Koch has done it again (since TheDinner): purposely presenting us with a less than amiable narrator: Dr Marc Schlosser is a general practitioner with rather odd professional standards. The initial scenes create antipathy but soon the author has us following the tantalizing thread of what led to the introductory situation. Schlosser's ordered life unravels in suspicion and paranoia upon socializing with a celebrity patient, Ralph Meier. They do like to party. Their families get along swimmingly. Then Ralph dies.
Summer House is a mystery but not really a crime novel. Privy to the doctor's thoughts, we clearly see his love for wife Caroline and daughters, but we also see his subterfuge and hangups about human physicality. Schlosser's fantasies of destruction and bloodbaths, while examining his patients, are bizarre, yet have a comical element. Above all, Koch is a master of nuance, of unspoken motivation. Watching his people reveal themselves is a writer's model of character development. On the other hand, you may never trust your family physician again.
Ralph in lust:
It took a couple of seconds before I realized that Ralph was no longer listening to me. He was no longer even looking at me. And, without following his gaze, I knew immediately what he was looking at.
Now something was happening to the gaze itself. To the eyes. As he examined the back of Caroline's body from head to foot, a film slid down over his eyes. In nature films, you see that sometimes with birds of prey. A raptor that has located, from somewhere far up, high in the sir, or from a tree branch, a mouse or some other tasty morsel. That was how Ralph Meier was regarding my wife's body: as if it were something edible, something that made his mouth water. (47)
Marc in lust:
I said nothing. I walked a little closer to her, so that our forearms touched. I smelled something vague: sea air mixed with a hint of perfume or deodorant. It was only a matter of time, I knew. Or rather, a matter of timing. To grab her around the waist already would be taking things too fast. I estimated the distance to the beach club. Ten minutes. Within ten minutes she would be all mine. (242)
Chopping a giant swordfish for BBQ:
He was down on his haunches and had kicked off his flip-flops. I looked at his bare feet: from time to time the hatchet came awfully close to his toes on the tiles. I looked on as a physician. Just to be safe, I tried to work out what I would have to do first. If kept cool, toes and fingers could be put back on at the hospital. If Ralph planted the hatchet in one or more of his toes, someone would have to keep a level head. There was a doctor in the house. It would be up to the doctor to stanch the flow of blood and wrap the toes in a wet towel with ice cubes. Women and children might faint; the doctor was perhaps the only one who would be able to keep cool. Judith, ice from the freezer! And a wet towel! Caroline, help me apply a tourniquet to his calf―he's losing too much blood! Stanley, start the car and fold down the back-seat! Julia, Lisa, Alex, Thomas, go inside, you're only getting in the way. Leave Emmanuelle where she is. Just put a pillow under her head―she'll come around in a bit ... It would be my opportunity to shine in a leading role, the role for which I was perfectly suited, but the hatchet came down only once within a fraction of an inch of Ralph's big toe. (191)
Claire Cameron. The Bear. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
Prejudice here: I liked Cameron's first (mystery) novel The Line Painter very much and I've been associated with her mother for some twenty years. But then I thought to myself: I am so over having toddlers, can I really get into the skin of a pre-schooler? Because once begun, The Bear is just that ― narration by a five-almost-six-years-old girl whose parents are savagely killed by a marauding bear in a wilderness park. Little Anna and her even younger brother Alex (whom she calls Stick) were saved by their father's last desperate action to hide them. Anna's limited frame of reference deals with the devastation by allowing her to see only what makes sense to her.
It's quite magical how Cameron captures Anna's fertile imagination, the natural jumps in attention span, the childish logic. How will these small children survive? Will they ever be found? Will the bear return? Anna's memories help sustain her; one of them turns her to a game only she and Stick share. It's brilliant how the author makes Anna's character internalize the idea of bear. I don't want to give away the suspense but later events contrast the innocent inner life of a child with how wrong we can be about it. I'd say Cameron has talent to burn. But then, I'm prejudiced.
The campsite from the canoe:
I look at Daddy's broken paddle on land and worry drips into my heart. I don't see Daddy. Momma said to take Stick in the canoe and wait. A little puddle of black sits in my heart too and I know Momma said to wait. I am supposed to get Stick in the canoe and wait and now I am going back. I am bad. I want to be good girl and Daddy will come back again and my family will be four. (59)
I think Stick has English inside his head and he doesn't make it come out loud so much even when it comes out the wrong way or backwards like my name Nana. His words are in his head and they get stuck when they swim around inside. This is because I saw a picture of a brain and there are little squiggly paths that wind around like worms and English has to travel through the squiggles that are like tunnels for worms. A baby can't push their thinking because there are so many worms. Stick isn't a baby any more but he still is wormy gross and I tease him about worms and get in trouble when I put them in his face. I have to put them back in the dirt to let them have a nice life again. (74)
"Sticky! Stick!" I stand up and the rain hits me on every side of my body and I shout both his names over and over and my throat has claws that are ripping me and I am so scared and my kneecaps wiggle so much they will fall and my tummy heaves and I have a little barf and my arms are so bubbled and red and my face is hot and might fall off but I have to keep calling and I shout for Stick for the longest time I can. And finally I can't shout because my voice isn't making noise out of my throat. My legs fall down and I am on the ground and my heart has shaken loose and rolled away. I can't open my eyes. All I see is my lids and black and I can barely feel the rain but the itchy black is eating up my skin from the outside and crawling all through my blood. I want to get up but I can't. Only my brain can think so everything is black and I can't move. (144)