Every claustrophobe will tell you that it’s the elevator riders who are the crazy ones. That’s what I am muttering as I haul myself up the winding staircase to the Grand Ballroom on the third floor of the Plaza Hotel in a gown on my way to a black-tie wedding. A few minutes earlier, I had taken one look at the elevator in the lobby and determined: No way. If there was an alternate route up, I would find it. My husband shot a knowing look my way and piled into the metal box with too many other guests — an image, even as I write this, that makes me uneasy — riding what The New York Times in 1891 called the “vertical railway.”
Here in the hospital room a bag of someone else’s O+ hangs above her bed — an island of red in our yellow sea. The blood drips through tubes into her veins and now she’s sure death is coming. Now when even her own blood isn’t enough to keep her strong. “I’m dying,” she shouts again. Wobble. “Not today,” we say again. And this time she just shakes her hands toward the sky. No noise.
“You’ve broken bones before,” we remind her. “You know what it’s like. It’s just something broken, something hurt that needs to heal.”
“Dying!” she says.
On the occasion of my recent retirement from practicing law, it occurred to me that my entire 45-year career has been framed by my very first case representing William F. Buckley Jr., in a public figure libel case, and my very last case representing Britney Spears’s mother in a public figure libel case. In both, I defended the First Amendment, which has been at the heart of my law practice and intellectual life for all these years. My intellectual life, however, has been shaped by more than just the courtroom — it’s been shaped by over five decades of writing, including the book reviews I’ve written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, which are linked throughout this essay.
here is a moment at the beginning of The Lauras when Alex, the novel’s narrator, observes: “Usually when a person looks back they have to reconstruct, invent, guess at what was said or felt or smelled. That 24 hours, starting with the moment we left home, was burned into my memory.”
What follows in Taylor’s elegiac and beautifully observed second novel is a story recalled some 30 years later, when Alex is 43: the story of a road trip that takes a mother – Ma – and her child across the country and into the secrets of a parent’s past.
Commuting. It’s a daily chore for so many and something you don’t much think about (unless you’re a Southern Rail customer and then you think of little else). You just do what you can to get through it: iPad perhaps, paper, seat by the window – if you’re lucky. What we don’t imagine, in all that sweaty, claustrophobic tedium, is that someone is watching us, making notes.
Clare Mackintosh has picked exactly this creepy scenario as the context for her second psychological thriller I See You.