Published: January 8th, 2019 by Scribner Books
Genre: Fiction/Literary Thriller
First off, let me say a huge thank you to the team at Scribner Books for sending me this copy of Looker by Laura Sims. I was fascinated by the description, and although the thriller genre is one I tend to avoid, I was intrigued enough to want to give this one a chance. And I’m glad that I did—I flew through this book in a single sitting (literally… I didn’t move from the couch until I’d read the entire thing) and ended up liking it quite bit.
If you’ve followed along with me for a while, you know thrillers and psychological dramas with unreliable narrators typically do not sit that well with me. I guess I’m just not the right audience for it… I spend the whole book knowing there’s going to be a twist, and then even if it does surprise me, I’ve spent too much time anticipating it that it still manages to feel like a letdown. And a lot of the time I find the unreliable narrators to really feel more like lazy storytelling. But I really didn’t feel that way with Looker.
I definitely still went in with some hesitation, given my track record with the genre that I thought this book was going to fall under. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised. If you’re looking for a high stakes, fast paced thriller, Looker probably isn’t going to satisfy you. In my opinion (and also the opinion of my good friend @bookishmadeleine, who put it really well in her own review and in our discussions about this book), Looker is really more of a character study of a crumbling narrator than it is a thriller. Yes, the narrator is unreliable. But it’s not because the author is trying to play tricks on the reader. It’s because the narrator is literally falling apart as we watch. She’s losing her own grip on reality.
Looker is the story of an unnamed woman who has recently been left by her husband and is struggling in her career in academia. She is living in their former home with his cat, whom she feels he also abandoned. She is struggling with feelings of intense guilt and grief, over both the loss of her relationship and also over the infertility she struggled with during her marriage. Over the course of this brief novel, we watch as she becomes increasingly more obsessed with her neighbor, a famous movie star with a seemingly perfect family. Her obsession grows as her grip on reality weakens, leading to horrifying conclusion.
This book kept me completely intrigued from beginning to end. I couldn’t tear myself away from our narrator and her crumbling life. I thought Sims did such an excellent job showing her unravelling. Her grief and guilt was palpable and so well portrayed, from the beginning as she’s just starting to lose it, and at the end when she’s really gone over the edge. It’s not the kind of novel with a ton of twists and turns… it’s a slow burning book full of a lot of heavy and dark and rather strange moments.
I had some mixed feelings about the ending—although not because I didn’t think it was well done. More because it was just pretty hard to stomach. Without giving anything away, I just didn’t care for some of the things that happened. But also, I definitely saw some of them coming… the warning signs were there and I don’t think things could have happened any other way. I definitely closed the book when I was done with an icky feeling that took some time to shake.
I’ve decided not to go with a star rating for this one, because I just couldn’t settle on one that felt appropriate. This book was a perfect choice for a cold afternoon when I was stuck inside. The narration was well done (although at times the informality of it got on my nerves just a little bit), and it was an authentic look at a character falling apart. I’m glad I gave it a chance—it was unsettling and creepy and very different from what I was expecting, and I think that’s why I liked the experience of reading it as much as I did (even if there were some major icky feelings at the end). It’s probably not one I’ll revisit, but I’m glad to have read it!
Thanks again to Scribner Books for the review copy!