Review: Five Days, By Douglas Kennedy

A something that comes from nothing

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The Independent Culture

Until a decade or so ago, a biographical note for a novelist would simply state their residence in London, New York or some bookish locale. Now it seems authors are global citizens. Inside the jacket of Douglas Kennedy's latest novel, Five Days, we learn that he "currently divides his time between London, Paris, Berlin, Maine and Montreal". Well he is a best-seller. And all that geographical hopscotch has certainly influenced the setting of his work: A Special Relationship (London), The Woman in the Fifth (Paris) and The Moment (Berlin).

And so to Maine. Five Days tells the tale of a disheartened wife. Laura is a technologist in the radiology unit of a mid-sized Maine hospital, marooned in a stale marriage, with a son and daughter on the cusp of university and their own seemingly more exciting stories. Her husband Dan, having been made redundant, is floundering and turning bitter. "Nothing. That's the greatest irony of my work," she divulges. "Good news is all predicated upon the discovery of nothing. It must be one of the few jobs in the world where 'nothing' provides satisfaction, relief." In inverse ratio, a scan of her domestic set-up illustrates the desperate need for a shake-up; for something.

Kennedy is adept at detailing the splinters of dissatisfaction lodged in relationships founded on bad matches, as is the case with Laura and Dan. A small respite from Laura's predicament comes during a radiologists' convention in Boston: a long weekend alone, away from the cold shoulder and diminishing horizons. In the foyer of her hotel she meets Richard, a rather grey middle-aged insurance salesman with a natty line in check-in banter. Another happenstance encounter between the pair in a cinema sets in motion a dialogue that illuminates the possibility of change, of love, of a second chance for both characters.

What a difference a day makes, goes the old song. Well Kennedy has taken that tune and had it played by a quintet. The possibility of escape and rejuvenation is the refrain of this novel, and it is a theme for which Kennedy has a particular fascination. He possesses a Hitchcockian approach to this narrative hub; tension and twists are administered in equal measure in order to retain readers' emotional attachment to otherwise domestic scenarios. The ordinary becomes, through his careful plotting, extraordinary. Kennedy's trick is to pull all the strings of thriller writing in the romance genre.

A sense of place is also keenly addressed. Kennedy's Maine is a place of ocean views, small towns and quiet reflection, both oppressive and curative in equal measure. In previous novels Kennedy has had happiness scuppered by coincidence, ghosts, even Senator Joe McCarthy. Here, however, the risk lies in his characters' shaky ability to alter their paths. The result is a novel that's both moving and realistic as it broaches that awful chasm between what we could be and what we presently are.