Is that why I am? Do I deserve to be loved or even liked?
The unnamed narrator of Looker seems to be looking for an erotic-romantic involvement, but she's actually lamenting life's tedium. An adjunct professor who teaches romantic poetry, she's developed an unhealthy obsession with "the actress" who lives at the end of the block. Her obsession is odd but allows her to fulfill her insecurities from afar.
Sims juxtaposes her narrator's sexuality with anger and violence. Since her husband, Nathan, left, she's felt the urge to ramble through the "gentrified bubble" of her neighborhood, at first walking then sitting on the stoop in an attempt to distract from her daily grief. She's kept up a positive attitude for as long as can, but as her savings and marriage drain away, she sits with" zero kids, zero husband," like a "woman-shaped shadow." She's angry at the actress who gets to go home to her immaculate, well-appointed brownstone and be "a beloved mother, a gifted wife, a rich and famous person." She's not exactly looking for a new lover, but like the actress, she's attractive and her casual sexiness is a turn-on. She senses danger around the edges in her attraction to student Bernardo, who seduces her with his sharp masculine scent.
Dark-eyed Bernardo tracks her movements and asks her out for a drink. In the bar they talk about the sex and rage in John Donne and Emily Dickinson. Poor judgement allows the narrator a kind of distance from reality. She's both attracted to and repulsed by Bernardo's impertinence: "it's as if everyone can see me masturbating on the couch to his erotic poem, the one that apparently doesn't exist."
What does the actress feel in a world where eyes are always on her and penetrating her secret corners? "I want to show her that I understand, that I know now how it feels." Events take a turn for the worse when Nathan turns up at the neighborhood block party, demanding that she return his cat. She tries to stay calm, but it all comes too late: the inevitable clash with the actress is already set in motion. The anger escalates as does her quasi-deviant obsession, a mania no longer weighed down with the agony of years of trying for her marriage. At first circumspect, the actress senses panic: "I know who you are. Stay away from me." No longer cast out, no longer rejected or forsaken, the narrator tries desperately not to be the "stranger banging on the actress's basement door."
If readers can stomach the tackiness inherent in this shallow, pessimistic main character and a scene involving animal cruelty, there's much to enjoy in Sims' debut "thriller," a tale that evokes issues faced by a woman on the brink. Sims takes us through the odyssey of an angry young woman who thinks she knows about relationships. Though intelligent and articulate, the narrator is abhorrently self-centered and a reckless risk-taker. It is not until the book's final thirty pages that we begin to feel much compassion for her, which means that the first five-sixths of the book are rather frustrating to get through.
I mostly read Looker in stunned silence, partly in admiration of Sims' ability to pull the rug out from under us and partly dismayed that she did not end her novel in a more satisfying way. The story still stands as a graceful work of literary fiction in its attempts to explore, in deep emotional terrain, a woman's tale of obsession and failure.