As Susan reads, she is drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a math professor driving his family to their summer house in Maine. And as we read with her, we too become lost in Sheffield's thriller. As the Hastings' ordinary, civilized lives are disastrously, violently sent off course, Susan is plunged back into the past, forced to confront the darkness that inhabits her, and driven to name the fear that gnaws at her future and will change her life.
The erosion of a framed marriage
The reprinting of Tony and Susan has been described as the return of a modern classic—the book was first released in 1993.
The novel’s premise is unusual: A woman, Susan, has received a draft of a novel from Edward, a man she once briefly called her husband. Edward wanted to be a writer even when married to Susan, but it’s only now—long after their divorce—that he has realized his dream.
As Susan reads, she is awed by the skillful, harrowing story—a story that real-world readers of Tony and Susan will encounter in its entirety. It’s about a man, Tony, whose wife and daughter are abducted by some menacing men in the middle of the road. And as Tony copes with the aftermath of this violent incident, Susan copes with the memories of her dead marriage and the realities of her current domestic situation. Susan and Tony seem to speak to one another, the way any attentive reader feels that he is speaking with the characters on the page.
Tony and Susan accomplishes many difficult tasks. For example, Susan grows from a nonentity to something like a complex, living, breathing human being. Also, Tony’s situation in the manuscript subtly and plausibly sheds light on Susan’s predicament. Though Susan isn’t fighting for her life or seeking bloody revenge, she is deeply dissatisfied with some of her choices, and Edward’s tale forces her to confront some skeletons in her own closet. Readers may find themselves repeatedly thinking of David Mamet’s plays, which are similarly playful in their use of language and attuned to the darkness that runs alongside just about any simple, civil human encounter.
It’s impressive that Wright has invented such a bold structure for a novel, and that he has found a way to draw us so skillfully into not one, but two fictional worlds.