The Richmond Review

book review   


      home : book reviews : The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

In the Cut
Susanna Moore

In the Cut
Susanna Moore
London 1996

Merchandise Links

UK Edition:

US Edition:

A glimpsed blowjob in a backroom of a seedy New York bar, the last act of a red-haired woman found murdered and dismembered only hours later, opens Susanna Moore’s fourth novel set in blue-collar New York. Where another author – Richard Price would be at home in the bars and precinct houses of this novel – would have highlighted the maleness of the murder, this narrative is interwoven with other concerns; through Frannie, a white middle-class English teacher, Moore explores the inadequacy of language, the dark power of erotic fixation over intelligence, the unknowableness of others. It is as if a Martin Scorcese project starring Joe Mantegna has been given to Jane Campion to interpret, with all the attendant subversions of the genre that might entail.

Frannie is compiling a dictionary of slang from the streets she lives in but apart from. It is her jittery student Cornelius who leads her in search of words and phrases from his world of black disenfranchised underprivilege. The language is constantly analysed with the reader being offered lists of words misused to describe the profane and brutal milieu. The bearers of these semantic offerings are the men she becomes involved with: Cornelius, the detectives Rodriguez and Jimmy Malloy who involve her in the homicide investigation as well as masculine silences or the prosaic language of their wearily tough world view. It is these men who form the base elements of the novel in all their unreconstructed glory. If the men, however, present a composite picture of hostile inadequacy, Moore does not spare women. Frannie and her girlfriends are as inadequate in their own way as the men they stoop to conquer.

What makes this novel to most modern urban murder novels is that it is told convincingly from the viewpoint of a sophisticated and intellectual woman. Clearly the threat of a rapist-killer is given a more visceral immediacy by the female narrator, and this is compounded by the author’s attention to the language and the detailing of Frannie’s erotic life – few male writers aspiring the classic noir genre would have their narrator succumb to post-coital tristesse or ponder the wisdom of scrubbing his penis with a small brush shaped like a duck.

The downsides are an unappealing squeamishness and bizarre primness in descriptions of racial minorities and the frankly daft reminiscences of Frannie about Augustine, a childhood maid. But this can still be strongly recommended as a brave and interesting book. The unorthodox narrative voice creates a sting in the tail that makes chilling sense of the clash between the brutal and the intellectual, and provides a truly shocking denouement worthy of the best thrillers.

Reviewed by Peter Rodgers


Search The Richmond Review

Enter email address and Subscribe for updates

Product finder

Browse our network:

Visit The Big Bookshop


The Richmond Review

Copyright © 1995/2003 The Richmond Review