BOOK TITLE: Looker
BOOK AUTHOR: Laura Sims
PUBLISHED: January 8, 2019
GENRES: Literary Fiction, Literary Thriller, Psychological Thriller
CHECK IT OUT AT: Goodreads
BUY IT: Buy on Amazon
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 actress. The unnamed narrator can’t help noticing with wry irony that, though she and the actress live just a few doors apart, a chasm of professional success and personal fulfillment lies between them. 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. Searing and darkly witty, Looker is enormously entertaining—at once a propulsive Hitchcockian thriller and a fearlessly original portrait of the perils of envy.
Two thoughts ran through my head while reading
Wow & WTF.
Told in the first person, Looker is the total unravelling of a smart, seemingly put together woman who has been through the ringer. We learn that before the book opens, our narrator has been through several years of infertility, culminating in infertility drugs. She has been told, by she and her husband’s infertility doctor, that it’s all her. His sperm is perfect.
And then, after she still doesn’t get pregnant, her husband (Nathan) leaves her, leaving her alone with her depression, rage, imperfections, and THE Cat.
Now, before I go too far, we don’t know exactly what happened before Nathan leaves her. We don’t know exactly why he ended up leaving, just that she was ‘crazy’ and he left. We readers start the book with just the bare facts.
But whatever, all this has lead our narrator to where she is, where she looks out her window and watches what seems like the perfect woman glide through life. The actress. She’s effortlessly beautiful, with a wonderful husband that loves her. She has a personal chef. A wonderful home.
Three perfect children.
All of the actress’s seeming perfections push our narrator closer and closer to the edge. The vaguely resemble each other — at least to our narrator (similar bodies, blonde, the same shade of lipstick). She cannot stand the woman, but wants to be her friend. To be her. To live her life. She knows she should stop watching, but she cannot look away. Cannot. Look. Away.
She even finds showings of the actress’s movies when she needs to get out of the house. A wee obsession this is not.
It’s obvious that our narrator’s struggle with fertility triggers some mental health issues, and the hormones pushed into her body don’t help at all. As she looks back, we see she also struggles with the disappointment her inability to conceive causes her husband. She’s spiralling downward, and she’s worried about his disappointment.
And then, when we get to the story, he’s gone. It’s her ‘craziness’ that seemed to have pushed him out. So she’s left with surging hormones, no baby, no husband, a career that’s faltering, and a famous actress next door that seems to have it all.
It’s a cauldron that needs little stirring to bubble over.
I’m not going to say more, because I’ll give the whole book away.
I don’t know that I liked this story — it made me super uncomfortable. But I also could not stop reading. It’s one of those stories I had to push through, and it’s worth it. It’s not a happy book, but it’s the kind of novel that’s worth reading. Looker puts infertility and hormones on display, parading their ability to push a woman past her breaking point. Sims also reveals how middle-class America shuns women who don’t live up to the perfect ideal of motherhood, while celebrating women, like the actress, who have both a career and motherhood (which means fertility).
(Of course that revered and lauded actress also has two nannies, a housekeeper, a personal chef, an assistant, and a successful, rich husband. Also probably a personal trainer, a stylist, and a makeup artist.)
As women, we’re pushed to have children, even when the infertility fight can push us into anxiety or depression. Then, when it’s not happen naturally and we’re already feeling anxious, depressed, and vulnerable, we’re given hormones to make us more able to get pregnant.
Because hormones only help those mental health issues, right?
So, you don’t get pregnant. And then you get more depressed or anxious or something else.
Or you do get pregnant, and you have those months of pregnancy that make you feel like your getting it done (and you may be euphoric or miserable in those months, but you’re doing your job), but then you have a baby and you may spiral into postpartum depression or worse, because, again, hormones and mental health go hand-and-hand.
I did not go through any of these things, luckily. No real fertility issues, no hormone shots, no postpartum (other than a few hormone surges that made me prone to cry for no reason). I did get the baby(s) to take home, and they’re only 14 months apart, and our youngest has Down syndrome (which seemed scarier in the hospital than in day-to-day life). That was scary enough without other issues, and anxiety didn’t kick in for a few years.
But Looker is a peek at the other side that kind. Of motherhood not happening easily, and then not happening at all.
And having to watch the seemingly perfect woman have it all right through your window.
I suggest everyone read Looker. Just like our narrator’s plight, it’s hard to look away, even when it makes you uncomfortable and sad. However, unlike our narrator’s obsession, Looker probably won’t push you over the edge.