“I had no compassion for anyone unless his suffering allowed me to indulge in my own.” (Tuesday, 117)
The story of young Eileen is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator, who looks back to the days leading to Christmas 1964. The 24-year-old Eileen Dunlop was trapped at home taking care of her alcoholic father whose embarrassing indiscretions are the talk of the neighborhood. The house is filthy and squalid; his drinking, as she puts, places stain on her as a young person, making her tense and edgy.
But she is far from a likable person. At work in the juvenile correctional facility, she puts on a dead mask and takes care to show no emotion. In trying to pursue the dignity of which her life has deprived her, she becomes neurotically self-absorbed and insecure. She suffers from severe sexual and emotional repression, prone to obsessive behavior. She distracts her lust after the muscular prison guard by shoplifting. She entertains eerie thoughts and is wallowed in filth. She is motivated by one goal: to flee the squalor of home and move to New York City.
Didn’t she know I was a monster, a creep, a crone? How dare she mock me with courtesy when I deserved to be greeted with disgust and dismay? (Saturday, 57)
Self-loathing is the constant theme, and Eileen shows herself to be repulsive. The book is more a character study than thriller, although it has a short time span on the days leading to the surreal event. There’s a creepy Hitchcock touch to parts of the novel. A lot of it is played in Eileen’s mind—it’s ugly, disgusting, but also riveting. When that fateful event she keeps alluding to finally takes place, it’s like a thud. It’s unsettling but also feels unreal.
260 pp. Penguin. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]
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