Saturday, August 7, 2010
The Shadow Knows by Diane Johnson
Although never voiced, this question underlies the events in the novel. I really liked this well written unsentimental book – it worked on many levels. About a ditzy young woman, N., divorced and knocked up with four kids, living in a Sacramento housing project and succumbing to paranoia. Or is she? Perhaps every one she knows is in fact out to kill her. That certainly seems to be in the case in the first person narrative. Among other things, The Shadow Knows is also a nanny novel. N. has a black nanny, Ev, with a similar set of problems: a useless husband and a hurtful lover. Someone is out to get both women. The “murderer” starts small, leaving crap on the windshield, a dead cat on the step, slashed tires. Then the murderer gets personal with deadly results. The powers that be – men really, want N. to forget about the issues, ignore the mounting signals. The one saintly helper turns out not to be so saintly after all.
The amazing thing about this book were the fully developed characters from three distinct worlds – the upper class white world N. has rejected/been exiled from, the black world of drunkenness, manual labor, and music, and N's academic life as a college student/mother. The book is full of incredibly politically incorrect dialogue and scenes. But these scenes did not feel fake or phony. At the end N., a “little bitty woman,” is compelled to become a detective, discovering a midnight core of pure savage sexuality. The final scene is N. receiving the “coup de grace.” The mercy blow typically resulting in death, but in this case it brings happiness.