Lacy Eye by: Jessica Treadway
Review by: Mark Palm
If you want to see me bolt like a vampire from a wooden stake, call a novel “Psychological.” I lay the blame for this a a former Literature professor who had an unusual fondness for psychological analyses of books, along with a belief that the works of Henry James was the pinnacle of fiction. When you combine the two I spent the majority of the class either gnashing my teeth or trying to catch a nap in the back row of the classroom. At the base of my aversion is a dislike of viewing a work as “psychological” when it is not.
Then there is Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway, which is a psychological thriller, and an exceptional example of how effective such a book can be when the right touch is applied.
The story starts quickly when we discover the narrator, Hanna Schutt, is trying to put her life back together after suffering a brutal assault in her own home; an attack that killed her husband Joe, and left Hanna with serious injuries and a gap in her memory. The D.A. who prosecuted the case three years ago informs Hanna that the man convicted of the attack, Rudd Petty, will have the case appealed. The rub is that Rudd was the boyfriend of Hanna’s younger daughter, Dawn, who met the older Rudd while she was away at college. While many believe that Dawn was involved, Hanna does not, and even though she cannot remember the attack she is resolved to try, so she can testify and keep Dawn from being indicted.
As a child Dawn was withdrawn, socially awkward, and suffered from a “lazy eye.” Being a solitary child herself Hanna is very close to her daughter, and with her husband Joe they do their best to help Dawn as she is relentlessly teased and taunted by her classmates, and sometimes even by her older more popular sister, Iris. Still, they feel a bit uneasy about Dawn’s inability to mature and her willingness to ignore reality in her desire to fit in. Then, as her mother is trying to dredge up memories of the attack that shattered her life, Dawn, who has been gone since the trial come back to live with Hanna.
Unreliable narrators have become as ubiquitous in suspense novels as hunky Monster-boys in YA books, and for a few moments in the beginning I was thinking that I would be led down the same old road, but I was quickly proven wrong. Ms. Treadway’s use of Hanna’s loss of memory is solid and assured. The story continues with Hanna and Dawn living together as Hanna tries to regain her memory, all the while visiting her older daughter, Iris, now married with a child, who still believes that Dawn may have had a part in the attack. As the date of Rudd’s appeal grows closer the story artfully shifts from past to present, revealing more and more details as it goes. There are no car-chases or gun-fights or double agents, but with her nuanced language and carefully-crafted plot Ms. Treadway makes this low-key story a grueling exercise in suspense.
Oddly enough for me, one of the main things that makes it so tense is the psychology. Ms. Treadway knows these characters, and brings them to such life that you feel that she has spent her life with them, and that it what finally makes this novel as good as it is.