cover image A Shock

A Shock

Keith Ridgway. New Directions, $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3085-8

Sex, lies, and drugs shape the interlocking and recursive narratives in Irish writer Ridgway’s marvelous latest (after Hawthorn & Child), revolving around a set of neighboring London houses. One day, an unnamed widow receives a visit from the younger couple next door, who announce they’re throwing a party. During the noisy festivities, the widow pulls away the loose plaster from her side of the houses’ shared wall and crawls into the space between to have a look. This surreal, rodentlike scenario has echoes throughout: a local pub deals with a mouse problem; another couple, Stan and Maria, finds a rat in their flat; a plumber’s helper hides in a client’s attic after accidently locking himself in the house. Along the way, Ridgway delves into the weekend adventures of Tommy, a young man feeling disembodied while on some kind of tranquilizer drug, who pays a visit to an older man for sex. There’s also a barfly who tells people his name is variously Michael, Yan, or Yves; and Maria’s teacher colleague Anna, who tells Maria a bizarre story about losing her husband after an explosion, then admits she made it up. At the end, Ridgway returns to the party scene, this time from the other side of the wall, with all the characters assembled. What lingers is the overwhelming sensory experience of Ridgway’s prose (on Tommy: “His skin was a leathery peel. A wet dry thing. He had been scraped and reapplied to himself and now he was dying in the street like an ant on a fire”). This one sets the reader’s mind ablaze. (July)