WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY READ THIS BOOK.
A good idea gone to pot. The novel-within-a-novel hook is welcome, but very badly done. Tony is so unlikeable as to be revolting, whereas Susan is flat as a pancake in spite of Wright's efforts to give her depth with her infidelities, her less-than-perfect marriages, her domesticity buying off her idealism. Tony is a Coward with Capital C, and I liked that originality about a main character at the beginning: he really can't protect his wife and daughters from the thugs who abduct them; he's physically weak; he can't fight; he's more afraid of what will happen to him than of the suffering of his loved ones. But Tony continues on this vein after the brutality of the double crimes. From then on, it's always Tony's pain, the crime done to Tony, his loss. The men who raped and murdered his wife and daughter have hurt "him" more than they have hurt the two women. In fact, Laura and Helen are props referred to as 'mannequins' on several occasions. Wright provides a Tony POV at all times while inside Tony's novel, and since Tony's story is the novel Nocturnal Animals, we could blame its 'author' Edward Sheffield for creating flatness all around. (This would be Wright 'intentionally' writing poorly so as to reflect Edward's flaws as a writer.) But since Edward is part of Susan's story, and Susan's story is as bland as a Denny's meal, who can we blame but Wright?
The novel starts OK and picks up speed when three thugs accost a family of three (Laura, Helen, and Tony) in a rural road on the East Coast. The interruptions in the action are to wedge in Susan's story, since Susan is reading the novel where awful things happen to Laura and Helen. This interruptions would be welcome, or at least justified, if something were to happen in Susan's world. No. Nothing happens. Susan's battle is that of suburban, upper middle class domesticity: few orgasms, growing kids, husband sleeping around. Next to real crimes and tragedies, it's nothing. And there is nothing else, either. There is no dark secret in Susan's or Edward's past. There is no shattering of lives because of reading a mediocre novel of crime and sort-of revenge, as the blurbs and the ecstatic reviews promised. Nothing. Nada. This novel stands exclusively on the strength of the abduction, rape, and murder of a 40 year-old woman and her 16 or 17 year-old daughter. Their suffering doesn't matter to Wright, since it doesn't matter to Tony. They are there like the dead bodies in cop shows, at the beginning, and then the interesting part is to catch the murderer. In this 'novel-within-a-novel' the interesting part dies soon and never revives, mostly because the character Tony is such a despicable little nothing surrounded within and without his own story by sorry characters with no redeeming qualities. Even such a situation would be tolerable in literature: a novel about little nothings. But Wright writes so badly, it hurts. He manages to make a story of crime and punishment into one of crime and meaninglessness, peppered throughout with flourishes of disorientation to show the readers Tony's disoriented perspective. Nice touch, but in this book, a waste.
This novel promised much but began to disintegrate with each page. If the author has hidden clues to which I am blind, I would appreciate pointers.