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When LOOKER begins, the unnamed protagonist is sitting on the stoop in front of her apartment as her neighbor, an actress, passes by with her baby. The locale is a nice block in a Brooklyn-type neighborhood where everyone recognizes everyone else and where, until recently, the protagonist lived with her husband in a rental apartment in one of the brownstones.

Soon she tells us that her husband has just moved out --- but, unaccountably, left his cat behind. Ostensibly he left because the narrator drove him away when their attempts over the past five years failed to produce a child, and she demanded that they take a break from the fertility treatments. Now her routine consists of going to her part-time job as a college professor, and ruminating over how their life together might have been different if she’d had the child they craved. Occasionally she has lunch with an old work friend, but there are few other anchors in her life.

"This is an interesting but unfinished portrait by a talented writer whose impatience got the best of her."

Her beautiful neighbor, however, seems to have it all: husband, children, household help and a successful career in films. Fascinated by her, our protagonist begins to adopt her style, pick up her discarded items that are left on the curb, and imagine conversations with her.

At first, the narrator seems to be keeping it together, despite her troubling inner thoughts --- she teaches her class, flirting with a student but discouraging advances; she’s friendly to her neighbors but not too intrusive; she looks after the cat, even though it belongs to her ex. But it’s increasingly evident that the struggle to maintain normalcy is becoming burdensome. A few seemingly willful missteps take her further away from that safe space, toward bizarre and unacceptable behavior. The downward spiral, once it begins, is inevitable.

That spiral, which debut novelist Laura Sims signaled from the beginning, comes quickly, perhaps too much so. It’s as though the author and her protagonist are determined to get the worst over with, rather than putting up with the struggle any longer. When the inexorable mayhem ensues, it comes rapidly and at full force.

But then it’s over, and the reader is left wondering if the journey was worth it. This is an interesting but unfinished portrait by a talented writer whose impatience got the best of her.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on January 25, 2019

by Laura Sims