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3.0 out of 5 stars
A curiosity, 12 Jun. 2015
Set in contemporary St.John’s, New Brunswick, WALT is a slick, literary police thriller.
Walt is a cleaner in a supermarket, though by his paternal attitude, he will appear for some time to be the manager. He is in middle middle age; his wife Mary left him about a year before. As part of his work, he collects customer’s discarded shopping lists, which he then extrapolates into the imaginary lives of the shoppers. He quickly becomes interested in connecting the discarded lists with the real people who come to the store, which in turn leads to full-blown stalking, breaking and entering, and eventually to murder, by way of rape. A substantial majority of the novel is comprised of Walt’s first person interior monologue, which becomes increasingly misanthropic as the plot develops. He reminisces about Mary, often bitterly, and while stalking Alisha. Five or six extracts from Alisha’s diary, discovered by Walt during clandestine visits to her home, are sprinkled across the text. Into the middle of all this hitchhiker Lisa plummets, in a thunderstorm, and is raped and murdered in Walt’s remote fishing cabin.
The events of WALT are actually too commonplace to be the heart of a police thriller. Unhappy man kills wife, descends into dangerous loner territory, and obsession grows, he kills more people and eventually gets caught. There is no twist or gimmick or mystery relating to the actual events. What Wangersky has done, is to turn them inside out: The general form of this kind of story is to follow the victims and the police, while peeping through the killer’s windows. Wangersky follows Walt intently and only allows the other characters the minimum necessary.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Wangersky is a very fine writer and his book is doing everything he expects it to do. It’s interesting writing, well executed. Obviously a work like this hovers somewhere between thriller and literature and has to eventually come down on one side or another. It fails, as a thriller, because the plot is simply not thick enough. There is little action and no intrigue. It’s far too psychological. It also fails, as literature, because it is simply too slow. There are huge long passages, especially in the earlier parts, which consist of nothing except building Walt’s character, his thoughts on shopping lists, his feelings about customers, fly fishing, memories of his marriage: vast screeds of an unattractive and unappealing character sounding off about society’s ills. If you were reading this on the tube going to work, days of your life would pass doing nothing but listen to Walt complain about dog mess, global warming or childlessness. Not thrilling.
WALT is interesting as a curiosity or literary endeavor, but as an actual book, it fails to live up to its own ambition. Nothing unusual about that.