I read Tana French’s first novel, In The Woods, this summer and was impressed with French’s ability to raise some serious questions about humanity in her mystery novels. Someone in my building conveniently left her second novel up for grabs by our mailboxes, so I recently followed up with The Likeness.
The story follows Detective Cassie Maddox as she goes undercover investigating a murder of a woman who looks nearly exactly like her, and was using the identity of a person she and her boss made up for a previous undercover operation, Lexie Madison. She lived with 4 of her best friends, all getting their PhDs in literature, in a house that one of them had inherited outside of Dublin. The police squad decides to tell the roommates that Lexie survived the attack and will be going home. Maddox’s job is to get to know the roommates in order to narrow down a suspect.
Life at the Whitethorn House, as it is called, seemed to be picturesque. With no television, the friends spent their evenings reading, playing cards or working on the house itself. The girls prepared breakfast each day while the boys cooked dinner every night. Their rhythms felt old fashioned, and it was in that simplicity that they seemed to come alive that such an existence possible. Daniel, who inherited the house and gave the other 4 ownership in it described it as: “colors were so beautiful they hurt, life became almost unimaginably sweet and almost unimaginably frightening. It’s so fragile, you know…everything was so beautiful and precarious, it took my breath away.”
Literature, like any other art form, is able to capture moments of ultimate beauty–and when I am standing in front of an impressionist painting or listening to any slow song with a pedal steel or rereading one of my favorite books I am carried away into the belief that the moment’s perfection can last.
But it doesn’t. And it can’t. And that hurts me.
The crux of the mystery in this story lies in the fact that the illusion was shattered, and it was this passage that I couldn’t stop thinking about: “The idea was flawed, of course… innately and fatally flawed. It depended on two of the human race’s greatest myths: the possibility of permanence, and the simplicity of human nature. Both of which are all well and good in literature, but the purest fantasy outside the covers of a book. Our story should have stopped that night with the cold cocoa, the night we moved in: and they all lived happily ever after, the end.”
But all good readers know that a story without tension is boring and happily-ever-after stories aren’t as satisfying as one would think because they don’t feel authentic.
I live between the ideal and real, and feel its tension deeply: it is impossible for me to walk without being firmly grounded in what I know is real, and yet my soul would wither if I couldn’t hope in the beautiful. I suppose it is the reciprocal emotions that create the human experience. To solely chase perfection in this world is ultimately a destructive pursuit. Likewise, to live strapped to reality is utterly unromantic and unappealing.
So, with grace, the struggle goes on.