"Security:" Paranoia strikes deep in suburbia
"Security," novelist Stephen Amidon's new book, creates a world where memory and paranoia intersect in the lives of citizens of a Massachusetts college town.
Special to The Seattle Times
by Stephen Amidon
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 276 pp., $25
Although Stephen Amidon's new novel, "Security," has nothing to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center, a post-9/11 gestalt is clearly in evidence in these pages. Paranoia is woven into the fabric of society, even in quaint college towns in western Massachusetts, the setting for this story.
That means business has been good at Stoneleigh Sentinel Security.
Owner Edward Inman is bemused by this turn of events, but he gives his clients what they ask for — the feeling that with enough motion sensors, camera monitors and silent alarms, they can ward off unsavory elements right at their property line.
The only problem that remains is when those elements already reside within the home.
Inman, a thoughtful man, has been restless lately — fretting about everything from his business, to his adolescent daughters, to the increasingly reactionary law-and-order stances taken by his wife, a local politician.
His worries don't turn off at night, so he is awake when a late alarm comes in from a wealthy neighborhood just outside of town. The client, who also happens to be a political ally of his wife, assures Inman that it was a false alarm.
But later, a college student claims she was sexually assaulted the same night at that home. This makes things awkward for Inman, increasingly so when his subsequent investigation links his client with a young man who is the son of Inman's old and not entirely forgotten flame.
But even as Inman strives to get to the bottom of the assault claim, others are at work trying to discredit the female victim.
The art of storytelling and the reliability of memory are intriguing undercurrents in "Security." The assault victim's writing professor at the college has been leading his impressionable students through a workshop on the memoir while ghostwriting a memoir for someone else. And the assault victim's father is trying to reframe the official account of an incident that has put him in legal hot water.
Amidon pulls together these many strands to create an involving tale.
His detailing of contemporary suburbia will lull readers into thinking these are people and places they know and are comfortable with. His sympathetic characters help the story unfold from different points of view. Various riffs on parent-child relations ring with poignant truth. Plot twists incrementally reveal psychological insights and guilty pleasures, while leading to astute cultural commentary.
Thus readers, caught up in Amidon's carefully fleshed-out world and figuring they pretty much know the lay of fictional Stoneleigh, Mass., may be shocked by the final few pages of this book, which lay bare the notions of security and steadfastness, and make us question who we've been pulling for, and why.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
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