BOOKS FICTION Secrets and the Newt effect

THE PRIMITIVE by Stephen Amidon, Gollancz £15.99

THIS seems to be one for the boys. It starts with the hero racing his vintage Ford Mustang down a mountain. Then he runs a mysterious woman off the road, injures and rescues her, nurtures and protects her - and is seduced and betrayed. It's very Fatal Attraction.

But while that story set its male anxieties in booming mid-'80s Manhattan, Michael Douglas led astray by shoulder pads and a loft apartment, this one is more recessional and more subtle. The hero, David Webster, is working un-happily as a copywriter for a North Carolina property developer after losing his real career in a corporate downsizing. His best friend Rowdy is a doctor who sweats all night for a private hospital, then spends his days avoiding his waspish wife's divorce papers. Webster's town - vividly conjured - is a shell hollowed out by Wall Street, with dereliction downtown and a whole quarter fenced off and abandoned to weeds and insects, renamed Nowheresville.

Amidon cleverly uses the atomisation of Newt Gingrich's America to drive the plot: the injured woman, Sara, flees Rowdy's hospital because she can't pay; Webster puts her up in an empty repossessed house. She seems to have no money, no friends, and - as is traditional in the thriller genre - no identity. "There was clearly some purpose behind her evasiveness, some drama in which he didn't need anything more than a walk-on part," writes Amidon, as if he's already trying to dumb things down for future Holly-wood adaptation. But mostly he keeps the obvious in check; with Sara tied to her hiding place by a broken wrist, the plot backtracks to Webster's slow fade from his happily married dream-home twenties to the negative equity and marital boredom of his early thirties.

This shift is made political: he used to run a charitable foundation, now he sells life behind fences and burglar alarms; his wife works all hours to save a failing public radio station. Webster's falling for Sara only confirms his withdrawal from the community: "Nothing mattered but being with her now." Then Amidon throws in his twist: Sara's past, obdurately hidden from Webster, contains the roots of his decline and that of his town. Unfortunately for the book's pacing, these revelations are too slow in coming: Amidon and Webster are both so enraptured by Sara's inscrutability that the second half of the book is dominated by long, claustrophobic love scenes.

This is a shame, because the conspiracy held behind Sara's liquid eyes is a good one, leading Webster - when he can drag himself awake - up to a dead tobacco magnate's art-stuffed mountain cabin. But Amidon keeps hiding Sara's secrets by contrived interruptions and coincidences. Since he's also determined to avoid a clichd firefight of a climax, the momentum slips. And when Sara tells all, her confessions seem undramatic, Lovejoy- sized.

This doesn't ruin the book, however: despite terse dialogue and a pair of pale villains on Sara's trail, The Primitive works more as a sad eye cast over modern America than as a thrusting thriller. Its best scene comes long before the end, when Webster and Sara go for a picnic among the empty lots and dead dogs of Nowheresville. Amidon sees his country's future here, the postwar suburban dream burnt out and abandoned, and lingers over the wreckage. But you can bet the Hollywood adaptation will cut straight back to the chase.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory