Tony and Susan Hardcover – Jan 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
In this intriguing accomplished novel, the author of Camden's Eyes and several works of literary criticism combines a stark take on a film noir theme with a postmodern meditation on the act of reading. Susan Morrow is surprised to hear from her former husband Edward, who has written a novel entitled Nocturnal Animals , which he asks her to read. The main character in the novel is Tony Hastings, who, in a late-night drive with his family from Ohio en route to Maine takes a detour down a dark road into death, confused grief and vengeance. As Susan becomes involved in Tony's journey, she relives her past life with Edward and reviews her present one with her current husband, Arnold--both men she could never "read" the way she reads Tony. She finds herself asking two questions: how will Tony survive his trip's terrible events, and what sort of a man has Edward become? And because Edward is "real" and Tony is fictional, only her speculations about Tony will be answered to her satisfaction. Written in contrasting styles--Tony's account in sharp prose that ricochets in unexpected directions, Susan's musings in fluid passages of emotional and sensory perceptions--the novel's two stories mesh into a credible, suspenseful narrative. Wright infuses this excellent work with resonating observations about the reality of violence, where the loss of humanity is the price of revenge, and the "reality" of fiction and its place and power in day-to-day life. BOMC and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
By framing a crime story within a domestic novel, Wright, an English professor and author of three previous novels, dissolves the fragile civility that often conceals violence. He also scrutinizes the institution of marriage, considers the nature of memory, and documents the potential impact of one's choices, both large and small--all without sacrificing pace. At Edward Sheffield's request, Susan Morrow reads his first novel, Nocturnal Animals , in which an impulsive change of plan delivers Tony Hastings and his family into the hands of strangers who terrorize them. Passages from Sheffield's novel alternate between Susan's memories of Sheffield (her ex-husband), to details of her current marriage, to her speculations about the writer's and the reader's obligations. By counterpoising the eroding compromises of Susan's daily life with the sufferings of the Hastings family, Wright demonstrates that macho posturing, cruelty, and the refusal of individual responsibility infect both sexes and all classes. Highly recommended.
- Jane S. Baker man, Indiana State Univ., Terre Haute
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Not one character you can like or identify with. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino could produce this as a movie- it has his surreal kind of unbelieveability.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
My hopes were raised by the cover quotation from no lesser writer than Saul Bellow who describes Tony and Susan as being "marvellously written". In parts it is but equally, in parts we get "When that young Susan on Edward's bed saw Arnold Morrow's alarming penis suddenly come into view with swollen purpose, she heard a gong in her head. She heard another soon after, when she decided to let it in" which to my mind puts it in the running for that bad sex writing award that gets dished out every year.
Ultimately, it's not a bad book. Certainly interesting in parts, particularly in its deeper considerations of how we read books and, in part what books mean to their writers. But does it warrant the praise heaped on it by the publishers who have republished it after the initial failure of the book to make any headway describing it as "the most astounding lost masterpiece of American fiction since Revolutionary Road"? That's a big claim, and one that it doesn't, for me, deliver on.
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.
Tony is the lead character in the novel Edward has written. As Susan reads the novel, we read along with her: `Tony and Susan' is a story within a story.
Austin Wright's novel, originally published in 1993 and reissued in 2010 to critical acclaim in the UK, successfully welds its thriller component, `Nocturnal Animals', with Susan's reaction to it to form an impressive and unusual work.
`Nocturnal Animals' is an engaging thriller in its own right. Tony Hastings, a mathematics professor, is driving late at night with his wife and daughter on their way to their holiday home. Their car is forced off the road by some thugs who abduct the female passengers.
Susan's reading elicits various responses as she attempts to categorize the story and second guess the plot based on her knowledge of her ex-husband. But more than that, `Tony and Susan' puts the concept of a novel as a piece of media to the fore. Every reader's interpretation of fictional writing is different. The story that plays out in one's mind, the characters and the setting are visualized uniquely by each reader. Susan's dissection of `Nocturnal Animals' and the way she relates it to her own life, by way of the author's relationship with her and her reactions to the lead character's actions, give a fascinating insight into the way we relate to fiction.
My only gripes, and these are quite minor given how enjoyable this novel is, are that both strands begin to pall a little towards the end of the book. I felt that there could have been a little more editing here and there. However, as a whole, this is a superbly written novel and is highly recommended.
"...[A] marvelous Russian-nesting-doll blend of fine literature and suspenseful thriller."
Then Susan's ex-husband writes to her. When she was married to Edward, he believed he was a writer, quitting his job to try (unsuccessfully) to pen something publishable while allowing Susan to support him. During their marriage, Edward asked Susan to critique his writings; that turned out to be an uncomfortable mistake. Now, unaccountably, he's asking her to read a novel manuscript he's written. Although she hasn't heard from Edward in 20 years, other than rote Christmas cards mailed by his present wife, Susan finally decides she will read his manuscript. She feels imposed upon by the request, yet she's afraid he'll believe a refusal means she's still dwelling in their past.
Edward's package arrives. Susan sees that he has titled his manuscript Nocturnal Animals. Three months pass, and she hasn't read it. During that time, she cleans, teaches, cooks, parents and pays bills while an intangible worry nags at her. While she anticipates reading Edward's novel, she also procrastinates beginning it. She can't help but feel a niggling concern that he might want to rekindle their long-gone romance. Finally she receives a Christmas card from Edward's wife telling her that Edward will be in Chicago on December 30th and would like to see her. Susan is sure he will want to discuss his manuscript. With Arnold leaving for a three-day conference right after Christmas, she can use that time to read Edward's book. As she waits, she remembers skinny, birdlike Edward. She wonders what he'll look like when they meet and hopes his novel is not clumsily written. She feels that she is embarking on a risky voyage. What if he includes symbols known intimately to her because of their long-ago marriage? Or would it be worse to be bored or depressed by his writing?
On the Monday after Christmas, with Arnold gone, she finally sits down to read. In the back of her mind is that elusive feeling of concern. For one thing, she knows Arnold will be interviewing for a new position. If the interview is successful, it will mean a move. She also has other vague worries about Arnold's trip, but she puts them out of her mind as she begins to read Nocturnal Animals, which begins with a car trip by a man named Tony Hastings. Tony, his wife Laura, and daughter Helen are driving to their summer cottage in Maine. Helen challenges her father by suggesting they drive all night instead of stopping in a motel, and he surprises her (and himself) by agreeing. At first, Tony enjoys driving through the night, but eventually he runs into the worst nightmare imaginable --- a situation so terrible as to cause a gut-twisting visceral reaction in anyone who learns of it within Nocturnal Animals, within TONY AND SUSAN, and within readers of both stories.
Ominous foreboding builds in Susan as she reads Edward's manuscript and in the reader (yet none of us can avoid obsessively turning the pages). Nocturnal Animals hooks deep into Susan, releasing layers of her past while leading her toward some inescapable future. She can't help pondering the awful vulnerability and uncertainty of humans. The same can be said about those of us reading this marvelous Russian-nesting-doll blend of fine literature and suspenseful thriller.
--- Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon