- Publish Date
- Friday, 5 February 2016, 12:37PM
- By Stephanie Jones
The unsympathetic heroine – selfish, self-absorbed, convinced of her universal appeal to men – has a proud place in the literary canon, from Jane Austen to Gillian Flynn. Last year, Jessica Knoll debutedwith Luckiest Girl Alive and a female protagonist as complex and fathomless as any dreamed up by Shakespeare, and with an irresistibly knotty backstory. With her own first novel, Rebound, Aga Lesiewicz contends for the title of this year’s must-read ‘girl’ thriller (The Girl on the Train is referenced in the publicity material).
The premise is the novel’s strongest element, creating suspense while holding back enough information to propel the plot. Anna Wright, in her mid-30s and senior in a large TV company, feels she is “following a pattern of accidental twists of fate” in both her professional and personal lives. One little twist unravels with her sacking, in a brief and sanitary manner, of James, her boyfriend of three years, who has no real fault other than that he bores her. Though the relationship-ending conversation is mutually gracious and superficially polite, it’s semaphored that this isn’t the last we’ll see of James.
Anna is not one to be without a paramour for long, and, intrigued by her observation of a public sexual encounter, she quickly falls into a pattern of brief interludes with a stranger she nicknames ‘Dior Man’, a fellow runner on Hampstead Heath. Anna is a compulsive type who is seduced by the charade of danger, and Lesiewicz makes a convincing case for how a woman might be drawn to behaviour that her doctor and priest would advise against. Not everyone is having fun on the Heath, however, and a reported rape is followed by another, then another.
Red herrings abound as it becomes clear that the attacks are somehow connected to Anna. A bouquet of red roses is left anonymously on her doorstep; days later she arrives home to find them on the floor, the vase shattered. She changes the locks twice. Anna is befriended by a couple living nearby, but the husband, Tom, chances upon Anna too often for coincidence. Several other men – Anna’s close friend Michael, a new acquaintance named Alden, her ex-husband Andrew – are potential Big Bad Wolves, and when the criminal activity on the Heath escalates to murder, the stakes are raised.
Rebound is hampered by some substantial weaknesses, namely the unsatisfying depiction of Anna’s professional life. On the rare occasions she visits the office, she does little more than review her inbox, attend a meeting or strategize to keep her job. Although this may be a realistic depiction of a day in the life of a senior manager at a flailing media organization, the workaday drama’s too-dominant place in the narrative dilutes the effect of the real menace facing Anna, the metaphorical workplace axe being no rival to the literal fiend crouching in the shadows.
As flawed women go, Anna is not in the league of Flynn’s Amy Dunne or Knoll’s Ani Fanelli. Though self-centred and aware of it, Anna reads more as a stereotype of a Millennial than an established career woman on the far side of 35. She manages to be flighty even in bereavement, and her only dependent, a chocolate Labrador, is frequently forgotten. For Anna, as it eventuates, the only real problem is the fact of too many men.
Rebound is a thriller with the right ingredients and an imperfect composition. The use of present tense has the benefit of immediacy, but the first-person perspective offers too much access to a frequently repetitive internal monologue. There’s a terrific study of stalker psychology to be made, but Lesiewicz aborts an exploration of disinhibition and voyeurism before it begins. Nonetheless, the muscular plot means there’s every reason to hope Lesiewicz’s in-the-works second novel, Exposure, will fulfill the promise expressed in the exploits of Anna Wright.
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