The Magazine

Death and the Maiden

A 'Wuthering Heights' set in Cool Britannia.

Jul 16, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 41 • By DIANE SCHARPER
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The labyrinthine plot advances through interior monologues in which reality and illusion meet, meld, and create a multilayered novel with numerous allusions to fairy tales and ballads. There's the demon lover, the false knight, the hunter and his seal wife, Tom, the piper's son, as well as Briar Rose. These allusions come together to form the larger story of the novel, giving it an archetypal quality but making it slow to read and sometimes hard to understand.

The echoes of Emily Brontë, Jorge Luis Borges, and John Fowles add yet another layer to the narrative. Wagner's protagonists (à la Brontë) are Wuthering Heights spin-offs--with Tom as Heathcliff and Janet as Catherine Earnshaw. The ill-fated pair go around in concentric circles not on the moors but on the sand (and in bed) as they try to sort out the past, for themselves and for the reader, but wind up reliving it (à la Borges).

Wagner distorts that past (à la Fowles) by presenting it piecemeal and by switching the narrative point of view, back and forth from present to past and from Janet to Tom. With their fragile mental states further distorting their view of the past, Tom and Janet don't seem to realize what's happening to them.

When they finally do, it's too late.

Diane Scharper's latest book, Reading Lips, will be published later this year by Apprentice House.