Tony and Susan
Grand Central Publishing
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". . . a study in contrast and futility . . ."
A story within a story that fails to deliver more than passing interest.
Edward, Susan’s first husband, has sent her his novel, Nocturnal Animals, to read before he comes to visit. Susan, a little at loose ends with her husband in New York at a conference, reads the manuscript and is caught up in Tony’s dilemma. Is there more to the story or is Susan reading too much into it?
In what seems to be a treatise on modern marriage and selfishness, Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan is a study in contrast and futility. Susan is unsure why she left Edward and remarried, choosing to blind herself to the truth, and Edward, in his own way, is telling Susan he was ineffective and could not or would not fight for her until it was too late.
The protagonist in Edward’s novel is an academic, a pale and cold man whose grief over the rape and murder of his wife and daughter barely skim the surface of his existence. He says all the right things and appears shell-shocked in the aftermath of discovering their bodies, but their deaths fail to touch a fundamental core response. Tony is useless, an automaton going through the motions of a happy life without ever being truly happy or reveling in the joys and togetherness of family. His distance from his brother in Chicago is more than a symptom; it is the fundamental truth of his life.
Susan is a bored housewife of a successful man. She has a lovely home, beautiful and talented children, and a husband who cheats on Susan as he cheated on his first wife with her. Arnold, Susan’s husband, seems to be an arrogant jerk, and she does not know whether she should have stayed married to Edward, ineffectual and colorless Edward.
Wright’s twisted sentences are like a corridor of mirrors that reflect endlessly without coming near the real thing, the people who cast the reflections. He fails to give Tony, Susan, Edward, or Arnold more than a glancing touch with his narrative brush. With passages like It was important to recognize the importance of things, for he knew now that everything important was important, nothing was more important than importance. from Edward’s novel and the disjointed, rushing language that is supposed to depict Tony’s disorientation during and after the hijacking incident, Wright muddies the waters.
Tony and Susan fights for an identity, for some clear point of view that will support the author’s thesis. While there are moments when Edward’s novel is fast paced and evocative, the rest of the novel is as colorless and cowardly as Tony is. There is little risk and the payoff is questionable. Wright’s novel with in a novel construction will doubtless wow the literati but provides little in the way of an interesting story or larger themes. One thing Wright did get right was the way Edward’s novel was written as an amateur’s first draft. The rest is too subtle and highbrow for this reviewer.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell