on 10 April 2007
"It's in her blood of course, all this craziness," says Mark Sears, the estranged husband of Diana Sears who unwittingly becomes the primary focus of Diana's campaign to prove that something murderous has happened to her son Jason. Recently Jason drowned in the lake behind the family home but the court rules that Jason's death was a mishap, an "accidental" death.
Diana is absolutely devastated at the verdict, certain that it is Mark that had something to do with their son's fate. Disappointed that Jason had begun to display the same signs of paranoid schizophrenia as Diana's father, Mark had gradually begun to separate himself from his son, disillusioned by the fact that Jason had turned out less than perfect, born with the problem so serious that it had unhinged him, cutting him of from others.
Diana was determined to protect Jason, "for as long as he lives, no one is going to take Jason, and absolutely no one is going to get rid of him." After his death, Diana becomes unhinged, "her flesh abruptly hardening, holding everything inside." Abruptly she moves out of her house, her life clogged with loss and grief and pain and she becomes filled with a divisiveness that will characterize much of the direction that her life will eventually take.
It is left to Diana's kindly brother Dave to help her wrestle her demons as he narrates his story to a local detective by the name of Petrie who also feels that Jason's death might not have been an accident. In this eerie setting, Dave recounts his knowledge of the events leading up to Diana's accusations where he comes to believe that Mark is not the only one beginning to fear her.
After a trip to the morgue, Diana accompanies her accusations against Mark with the maze of bizarre associations, her enquiry into Jason's death becoming almost like a pseudoscientific enterprise, a concoction made up of scraps from anthropology, forensics, mysticism, and even a badge of Marks. She sends him bizarre emails and faxes about prehistoric Iron Age murders, labeling them with the word "sinner," and spends all of her time ensconced in the local library researching all the weird murders of history.
Abby, Dave's wife senses that Mark is somehow in danger, but what in actuality is Dave supposed to warn Mark about? Meanwhile, Diana voraciously courts Dave's her teenage niece Patty, seducing her with tales of death and of Mark's possible involvement, Dave gradually sees his daughter as becoming hapless victim of Diana's enigmatic sorcery.
Dave, no longer the passive observer, turns Diana's - and indeed his own world - upside down as he is finally forced to confront a mad witches brew of family secrets and the very real possibility that Diana herself has inherited their father's troubling gene, and as Diana's frenzied mind runs rampant, Dave can barely make sense of all that he hears and sees.
Is Diana a seductive manipulator who is seeking to defile Mark's character for no good reason? Or does she have some real proof that Mark was responsible for Jason's death? And it suddenly occurs to Dave that perhaps this has been Diana's design all along, to bring her brother back to Jason for a murder she clearly thought no less painfully resolved.
In the Cloud of Unknowing Thomas H. Cook explores the delicate link between madness and intuition, and the fact that we can never really truly know anyone, perhaps even members of our own family. We see our lives through a prism of other possibilities, and when we look deeper than into the simple, shallow pool in which we swim, we in fact "are left staring bare-eyed into an unfathomable abyss."
The novel works well as a grippingly creepy literary thriller and Cook constantly plays tricks on us - we are never quite sure where any of the characters stand or who is in reality telling the truth. The Cloud of Unknowing is also a provocative study of the cyclical nature of mental illness and the dreadful consequences of one woman's realization that her life has been plagued with ills and torments that she unfortunately could not foresee. Mike Leonard April 07.