The very next day, I did something I’d never done before. I went out and bought new clothes. It was a snap decision, made without the least hesitation. I drove over on my lunch hour to a local clothing store popular with college kids, where I purchased jeans, a pair of black form-fitting T-shirts and some European boots with thick soles and heels. I knew the T-shirts would be less than flattering on my untoned body, but I didn’t care. The word shitkicker, applied by the clerk to my choice of boots, stuck in my head. Never in my life have I been especially conscious of how I dressed. Lucy has always bought my clothes…
I didn’t wear these new clothes to either the office or home. I merely kept them in my desk drawer at work, the whole bunch of them, and took them out from time to time, and smelled the fresh sizing of the fabric and the leather of the shoes, and felt myself comforted by this in a way I couldn’t explain. The clothes seemed somehow to provide me with a lifeline of sorts, an implied way through the storm ahead….
observations: There’s not much pretence that these clothes are going to suit the narrator, Nick – later he sees himself as ‘balding and plump, swelling a pair of pencil-leg jeans and a black T-shirt’. But also, the boots ‘due to their chunky heels, altered my sight line by a perceptible half inch and gave me the vaguely privileged feeling of looking down on myself’ – the symbolism is clear: he gets a new view of the world during the course of this book, even if the means are not quite right. His childhood friend has been involved in a strange and horrible crime, and Nick thinks back over their friendship, the days when the two families lived close to each other (though this is not a re-run of childhood, these are just memories rather than a major strand of the book – and all the better for that). His marriage is failing (not helped by his meeting up with his friend’s sister), his life is at a dead end, and he finds out some secrets about the past that shock him.
This is probably best-described as a literary thriller – it is very well-written, and the relations with his parents and the other adults from his childhood are particularly convincing and real. And there is a tension there, as the story of what happened to his friend slowly unwinds.
Links on the blog: There’s not much in the way of well-dressed men in modern books, and thus not much on the blog- here’s a footballer who sounds smart, and some comments on men’s clothes.
The pictures are: left, from Wikimedia Commons and, right, an author photo for Eli Gottlieb.