In June 2010, a small group of frozen-pizza technicians, cooks and marketers met in a conference room in Chicago. They had been summoned to report to Paul Bakus, an executive at Nestlé. This team had developed DiGiorno pizza for Kraft, and came along when Nestlé bought Kraft’s frozen-food business in January of that year. Nestlé is known for its chocolate Crunch bars, of course, but it makes all sorts of food: frozen meals, bottled water, bouillon cubes, Hot Pockets, instant noodles, baby food and dog food. It is, in fact, the world’s largest food company. But unless Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza counts, Nestlé didn’t make pizza in the United States at that time. Bakus was new to pizza, too. He had done a tour of duty at Nestlé’s Swiss headquarters before he was sent home to head the American baked-goods division. From there, he was transferred to run the frozen-pizza business from Solon, a suburb of Cleveland where Nestlé develops all its frozen foods.
DiGiorno, the line Kraft created in 1995, became a market leader for its “rising crust,” which, unlike other frozen pizza crusts, started raw and rose in the oven. The crust was the centerpiece of DiGiorno’s pitch to consumers: that it could pass for delivery. But now that DiGiorno was a Nestlé product, it would have to be brought into compliance with Nestlé’s nutritional standards. Bakus was sent to Chicago to talk about sodium.
Calling a thriller “psychological” credits it with a kind of literary complexity. The very first recorded use of the term “psychological thriller” was in an admiring review of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil in 1925. Most dictionaries of literary terms lack an entry for this genre, as if it were a figment of reviewers’ or publishers’ imaginations. A cynical interpretation would be that it is a thriller that an intelligent person is happy to be seen reading. Hawkins’s novel gained a place on Barack Obama’s summer reading list, thereby endorsed as the thinking person’s page-turner. A couple of years ago it was Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, also made into a glossy and violent film, that successfully filled this niche.
It is where genre fiction and literary fiction overlap. One of the books on this year’s Man Booker shortlist, Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, is declared to be a “taut psychological thriller” in a quotation from an admiring reviewer blazoned on its cover. Certainly it displays some of the key features of the psychological thriller. It has a first-person narrator on whom we rely, yet whose view of the world sometimes seems warped. Eileen works as an administrator in a prison for young offenders, whom she likes to study. “The best was when I could see the hard face of a cold-hearted killer breaking through the chubby cheeks and callow softness of youth. That thrilled me.” Like those of a character in a novel by Ruth Rendell (the British doyenne of the psychological thriller), her thought processes are at once logical and twisted. Eileen has a narrative that, we know with delicious apprehension, is heading towards a nasty, probably violent, conclusion. There is already talk of a film adaptation of Moshfegh’s novel. This is hardly surprising: “psychological thriller” has long been a description applied equally to novels, on the one hand, and film or TV dramas, on the other.
section divider, roughly a third of the way through Some Rain Must Fall, the penultimate volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle cycle, is a reminder, if one were needed, that this is not quite a stand-alone novel. The break is a distraction even for the committed reader: it takes a Knausgaardian feat of memory to remember that the first volume was also cleaved in two. Yet despite its jarring inclusion, the part break proves a reminder of Knausgaard’s sheer ambition and his committed attention to the moments and memories that define a life.