Looker: A Novel by Laura Sims

Simon and Schuster Canada gave me a digital ARC of Looker: A Novel in exchange for an honest review. Here’s what I think. 

Have you read your first book of 2019? Mine was Laura Sims’ new psychological thriller, Looker: A Novel. It was also the first book I’ve ever read on my phone. I’m old school — I love the smell and feel and weight and look of books! — but the digital copy was the only ARC available and I really REALLY wanted to read it so I gave it a whirl. I thought reading on my phone would bother my eyes but that wasn’t an issue. (Maybe because I’m always on it anyway.) But it DID feel weird to not have a hard copy to share and read again and have around, so I bought one. It’s SO SO GOOD!  It’s about a woman whose obsession with the actress who lives across the street turns terribly wrong. 

A dazzling, razor-sharp debut novel about a woman whose obsession with the beautiful actress on her block drives her to the edge.

I’ve never crossed their little fenced-in garden, of course. I stand on the sidewalk in front of the fern-and-ivy-filled planter that hangs from the fence—placed there as a sort of screen, I’m sure—and have a direct line of view into the kitchen at night. I’m grateful they’ve never thought to install blinds. That’s how confident they are. No one would dare stand in front of our house and watch us, they think. And they’re probably right: except for me.

In this taut and thrilling debut, an unraveling woman, unhappily childless and recently separated, becomes fixated on her neighbor—the beautiful, famous actress. The unnamed narrator can’t help noticing with wry irony that, though she and the actress live just a few doors apart, they are separated by a chasm of professional success and personal fulfillment. The actress, a celebrity with her face on the side of every bus, shares a gleaming brownstone with her handsome husband and their three adorable children, while the narrator, working in a dead-end job, lives in a run-down, three-story walk-up with her ex-husband’s cat.

When an interaction with the actress at the annual block party takes a disastrous turn, what began as an innocent preoccupation spirals quickly, and lethally, into a frightening and irretrievable madness. Darkly witty and searingly sharp, Looker is enormously entertaining—part tightly coiled Hitchcockian thriller and part send-up of life in the Instagram-ready city. Driven by a fresh and fearlessly original voice, this slender novel packs a powerful punch.

There are so many things I love about this book, and high up on that list is the woman who narrates it — a Bitter Betty whose wry observations and increasingly poor choices make her a fascinating, multi-faceted character — one far more interesting than the one-note actress we see through her eyes. I keep thinking of that saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me.” She’s the one you want to sit beside at a party, the lady with the killer one-liners and impossibly delicate collarbone. There’s something so deliciously precise about her choice of words (she’s a literature professor dreamed up by a poet and author, so perhaps not surprising) that makes the book so satisfying to read. I keep coming back to this part near the beginning of the book where she recalls a run-in with her nosey neighbour:

Just the other day, Mrs. H said, “Where’s your husband?” I stared at her. Where’s yours? I wanted to say back. Dead and buried, she would have had to answer. I envy her that clean resolution. Better to be left for death than for . . . nothing at all, not even another woman! Better to have Nathan snug underground than out walking the world without me. 

Snug underground. Isn’t that perfect? (Even now it makes me shiver.)

Some critics have said they kept waiting for something to happen and that it never did — but for me this waiting and imagining all of the things that could happen was part of what made the book so thrilling. I don’t want to give too much away but if it’s a murder you’re hoping for, well, you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve abandoned a couple of novels half way through recently for one reason or another so it was so fun to fly through Looker in just two sittings. The hard copy is 192 pages so it’s not a long book. I started reading it again today and could hardly put it down to write this post! So two thumbs way up.

Note: If you’ve struggled with IVF you might want to skip this one. Our narrator talks about the misery that was her experience with the process and the intense, life-changing disappointment when it failed (several times) so the subject may be too painful for some readers.

Looker came out yesterday.

What do you think? Will you look for Looker? What other thrillers would you recommend?