Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Living Dead GirlLiving Dead Girl by Tod Goldberg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mystery authors have the right to follow whatever narrative style they like, but then the readers have the right not to like the style chosen. This is the case with my reception of Tod Goldman's "Living Dead Girl". In this novel the narrator has all information already at the very beginning of the plot, yet the information for the reader is carefully rationed so that we are allowed to learn little by little about what happened in the past, and it is only by the end of the novel that we finally are told everything. I find this narrative structure quite annoying and at times I have focused more on guessing why a particular tidbit from the past is revealed than on following the plot.

Paul Luden, an anthropology professor from a Los Angeles area community college, learns that his estranged wife, Molly, is missing. Paul drives to Washington state, to the house where he and Molly used to live in. Paul's young girlfriend, a student from the college he teaches at, accompanies him. We begin to learn about deeply traumatic experiences that Paul and Molly have gone through. In addition, bipolar disorder is involved and some rather disturbing medical stuff. In one of strangest fragments of non-horror mystery prose I have ever read we learn about tumors that have proven not to be tumors but much worse.

This is a heavily psychological mystery. I have limited first-hand experience of mental illness, but from the little I know the novel realistically portrays mood disorders and other dimensions of "not-quite-sanity". Mr. Goldman's writing is competent even if there is a bit too much histrionics. The plot is interesting and the weird pathology stuff leaves a strong impression. It would be a much higher rated book for me if not for the irritating structure of narration. Readers who are not bothered by the narrator not telling them what he or she knows might rate this novel much higher. In fact, the book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Two and a quarter stars.

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