Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In The Cut, by Susanna Moore

(hb; 1995)

From the inside flap:

"We hear the wry, brazenly honest voice of an intelligence, self-determined woman living alone in New York City. She's a teacher of writing and a scholar of language in all its eccentricities, its vagaries of meaning and effect. She likes her solitude, when she chooses it; her students, when they don't follow her home; men, when they don't expect her to belong to them. She's unblinking and acute in her observations about herself as she is about other people. Uncertainty interests her -- the wish to be surprised: 'I have a. . . certain incautious adaptability.' She has chosen a private, if unsheltered life, and she is utterly unprepared for the danger that awaits her.

"In the aftermath of a particularly gruesome murder in her neighborhood, she finds herself in the grip of an unfamiliar gripping terror. She propels herself into a risky sexual liaison, as if to test the limits of her own safety, her knowledge of the world, and her ability to interpret it -- both its language and its unspoken signs. But as her fears and passions grow, she is increasingly wary not only of this one man but of every man with whom she has contact. It becomes clear that her passion, once a way of gaining control over chaos, is, instead, chaos itself. And by the time a second murder occurs, her darkest suspicions already may have already been overwhelmed by the darker desires she has discovered in herself."


Edgy, raw head-rush of a novel, with surprising dialogue and events. Is the murderer Jimmy Malloy, a charming, blunt cop? Is it Cornelius, a cynical John Wayne Gacy-obsessed student? Or is the serial murderer another man, one of a few other men the female protagonist (her name is never uttered) finds herself in contact with?

In The Cut is gripping, sharp, original and almost perfect, until, near the end, the female protagonist has a Stupid Moment -- that moment when it's clear what's going on, and who's doing what badness to whom, and a key character acts uncharacteristically Stupid (yes, with a capital "S").

That Stupid Moment is a minor nit, though. The female protagonist's surprising clarity -- practically fatalistic detachment -- to the horrors taking place around her turns this into more than the run-of-the-mill serial killer novel, almost rendering the aformentioned nit moot.

Worth owning, this.

A film version of the novel hit stateside theater screens on October 31, 2003.

Meg Ryan played Frannie. Jennifer Jason Leigh played Pauline. Mark Ruffalo played Malloy. Nick Damici played Detective Rodriguez.

Jane Campion directed the film, from a script she co-wrote with author Susanna Moore and Stavros Kazantzidis.

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