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"Stay on your guard."
on June 25, 2012
Frances Thorpe lives alone, socializes infrequently, and works as "an invisible production drone," editing copy for the literary section of a newspaper. She has always been "the good girl: biddable, compliant." One nasty Sunday evening, while driving towards London, she spots an automobile on the side of the road. The woman behind the wheel has crashed and is pinned inside her vehicle. Frances comforts the victim, whose name is Alys, and assures her that help is on the way. Tragically, Alys dies at the scene.
At the family's request, Frances meets with Alys' husband, Laurence Kyte, a celebrated novelist, his son, Teddy, who is in his middle twenties, and his nineteen-year-old daughter, Polly. Polly misses her mother; she unburdens herself to Frances, finding it comforting to bare her soul to someone who will not judge her. The two meet for coffee and eventually, Polly invites Frances to visit the Kytes' Edwardian country home.
Harriet Lane converts this innocuous sounding premise into something disquieting. Frances, the first person narrator, is well-educated, astute, and observant. What comes as a shock is her unbridled ambition and determination to push buttons subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) to get what she wants. She is a schemer who carefully plans her strategies as if she were conducting a military operation. This formerly unprepossessing woman suddenly realizes that everything she wants might be attainable if she manages to play her cards right.
Is it realistic that this formerly subservient loner would suddenly become a master manipulator? Probably not, but it is fascinating to watch an opportunist at work--dropping a sly remark here, an insinuation there, feigning modesty, and carefully concealing her intentions from everyone around her.
"Alys, Always" is an original and gripping work of psychological suspense and a heartbreaking tale of alienation and loss. Alys dies with unfinished business that will never be resolved. Frances is reprehensible but also pitiable; she is a cynic who believes that only by assuming a role can she leave her monotonous existence behind. Lane's sharply honed dialogue, resonant descriptive writing, and emotionally charged plot make this a noteworthy debut novel.