Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Cottagers: A Novel / by Marshall N. Klimasewiski

For 19-year-old Cyrus Collingwood, having to live in East Sooke, Vancouver Island, BC is its own punishment. A year-round resident of this mostly vacation destination, he's always held something of a permanent grudge against the summer people who rent out the neighboring cottages. It's a grudge born of envy of course, and Cyrus can't help his voyeuristic habit of monitoring the lives of the cottagers, noting the various distinguishing habits which mark the weekly renters from the seasonal inhabitants. A bit of of a burglar as well as a peeping tom, Cyrus sees no reason why he shouldn't help himself to a few unguarded possessions his temporary neighbors carelessly leave lying around ("cottagers treated possessions as if they half hoped they might be stolen"). But when a group of five individuals--two couples and a small child--arrive late one summer, there's something a little off about the situation and Cyrus can't help but tugged by the allure of the oddly arranged party, this time not so eager to take advantage of the situation as to become a part of it.
An English Professor on sabbatical, Nicholas has driven his wife Simena and their three-year-old daughter Hilda all the way to East Sooke from New York City for an extended stay in a cottage they've rented out for several months. Coincidentally, their friends Greg and Laurel, also academics, are available and have agreed to join them. Upon arrival, the group finds they're not as chummy as they used to be. Time has changed relationships between everyone, something the spouses already know and something four friends can't hide from each other for long. Cyrus, noticing the odd predicament, crosses his own boundaries this time, steadily insinuating himself personally into the group, feigning genuine friendship and comradery as he intermingles with them and shows them various special parts of his home. But when Nicholas goes missing one late summer evening, suspicions become intermingled with shared animosity among the remaining friends and Cyrus causing a whirlwind of commotion and bad blood to seep in and sieze control of the atmosphere.
The words 'spooky' and 'eerie' come to mind almost upon first glancing at the cover of this fine debut novel by the author who's previous literary efforts have been mostly short fiction and essays. But what makes it even more creepy is how well-realized the characters are. Cyrus is as ordinary as Greg or Nicholas, just bored with an uneventful life which becomes more amusing through observing the lives of others. The themes of privacy and confidentialities between friends are heavily engaged in alternating chapters of Cyrus and then the families showing Cyrus' own inhibitions (or lack there of) and the plaguing difficulties of the cottagers simultaneously, a motif giving the story a solid pacing and suspense driven narrative. At times the writing becomes a bit too introspective and aspects of Cyrus' behavior and antics are a bit overanalyzed. But the book succeeds anyway and is a satisfactory read, craftily interweaving elements of trust, betrayal and identity into a fun read. (FIC KLIMASEW)

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