cover image Little Scratch

Little Scratch

Rebecca Watson. Doubleday, $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-54576-1

Watson experiments with line breaks, repetition, and columns to express the unnamed narrator’s frenetic consciousness over a single day in this inventive, immersive debut. The narrator wakes with memories of an uncomfortable sexual encounter, after dreaming about it from an out-of-body perspective. Meanwhile, she registers a persistent itch that causes her to scratch herself raw (“blood under my nails from fucking scratching in my sleep”). As the novel progresses through the narrator’s routine and commute to her unsatisfying job at a London news agency (“got to do this thing again, the waking up thing, the day thing, the work thing”), she struggles to resist scratching her arms and legs. Competing thoughts often run parallel in two columns, with intensity indicated in all caps and dialogue in italics. Watson’s clever convention and set pieces are not simply flourishes but integral to the plot and themes. There’s much relatable humor in the heroine’s everyday snafus, such as her struggle for coherence while speaking with a male colleague, and a tedious task with a glue stick, the low point of her workday. The tone shifts as the narrator begins to consider that she was raped, and the last third of the novel becomes genuinely harrowing and unsettling. Watson’s haunting, virtuosic performance is well worth a look. (Aug.)