The Complicities by Stacey D'Erasmo
Published by Algonquin Books
Publication date: September 20, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Con man Bernie Madoff’s life inspired a plethora of novels about the aftermath of a wife left to clean up her husband’s mess. Or at least try to escape it. By and large, they come from a perspective of innocence. But in Stacey d’Erasmo’s new novel, The Complicities, she opts to forgo the black-and-white ease of innocent or guilty to go with something much more compelling—the many hues of complicity.
The novel’s convicted fraudster is Alan and The Complicities is told by his ex-wife Suzanne. She’s divorced her prison bound husband, refusing any contact with him. Instead, she scrapes together the little money she has left and decamps for a small Massachusetts town where she hopes to live and rebuild under her maiden name. She rents a house, takes an online class in massage therapy, starts her own business, and bartends part-time to make ends meet.
Alan calls repeatedly from prison, but Suzanne ignores him. Later, he’s released early and starts a new business with his son, who’s always believed in his innocence. He marries a woman named Lydia. His mother, Sylvia, whom he hasn’t seen since he was a child, decides she needs to make amends and begins a journey to reconnect with her estranged son.
All while Suzanne settles into her community. When a whale is stranded at nearby beach she volunteers to help save it. The whale is a catalyst, leading Suzanne to a rash, problematic decision with far reaching implications.
These are the events stacked up within The Complicities. Suzanne is the novel’s narrator so everything is seen through the lens of her mind and its constructs. Lydia and Sylvia have their parts to play, but only through Suzanne’s eyes. As she herself says, she’s “collaged” her life with those of the other women in an effort to understand, but even that is on her terms. The truth feels like an aside and as the Jenga pieces of Alan’s life topple, it becomes even harder to find.
I haven’t been in a space for challenging reading, but I welcomed it in The Complicities. D’Erasmo does such a marvelous job in shading and coloring outside the lines. In one way or another, all of the characters live on a spectrum of fluid morality. Suzanne’s bluntness makes her seem believable, but she has a stunning ability to deflect. These characters, their lives, are intriguing given how freely the word complicity has been applied in America in recent years. Weeks after finishing The Complicities I’m still puzzling over it, always the sign of great reading.
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