cover image Second Sight

Second Sight

Rickey Gard Diamond. HarperCollins Publishers, $24 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019203-7

Diamond's impressive first novel travels from a meditative beginning to a startlingly violent end with admirable confidence. In 1973, Gabrielle (Gabe) Bissonette is writing her master's thesis on Hemingway's failed masculinity while living in a cabin in Hemingway's beloved woods, on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The cabin belongs to Gabe's father, Henry, now hospitalized after a stroke has left him unable to speak. When Valley, the precocious, uneducated flower-child wife of Gabe's murderous brother Robert, arrives in a snowstorm, Gabe reluctantly takes her in, and the younger woman teaches her introspective host how to lead a more earthy life. Valley has come to the Upper Peninsula to await Robert's release from prison; when he eventually arrives in a whirlwind of sociopathic machismo, Robert proceeds to violate his parole restrictions and to terrorize his wife and relatives. Diamond relies on vivid contrasts and extremes: Gabe's scholarly impulses against Robert's destructive magnetism; the sublime wilderness, with its wild bears and fierce blizzards, against the deceptively simple people who toil at its margins. She depicts these tensions in a series of controlled vignettes; the narrative sounds like an edgy, ill-tempered comedy of manners right up until its searing and hair-rising end. Into this tense and terse third-person narrative, Diamond interpolates Gabe's letters and reminiscences; some of these delve so deeply and explicitly into Gabe's reactions that readers feel spoon-fed. But if Diamond's narrative stratagems don't always catch fire, her plot and her characters certainly do; these complex figures, and their suspenseful, tragic interactions, are the progeny of a mature sensibility, by turns laconic, wary and lyrical. (Mar.)