Now You See Him
Eli Gottlieb
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Buy *Now You See Him* by Eli Gottlieb online

Now You See Him
Eli Gottlieb
Harper Perennial
261 pages
February 2009
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In this desolate and quite profound novel, the suicidal death of well-known Monarch short story writer Rob Caster is a tragedy that leaves his best childhood friend, Nick Framingham, forever damaged. Nick would never had imagined that Rob would take such desperate measures, his last days filled with incessant sociopathic and literary ramblings when he shoots his girlfriend, Kate Pierce, through the head while she lays in bed in her apartment in Manhattan.

When the deed is done, the collateral damage, including Rob's suicide the day after the murder, along with the ensuing national media storm, is almost too much for Nick to bear, for Nick absolutely worshipped Rob. While the literary community is strangely emboldened by the murder and mobilizes to mourn him, Nick is left stunned, then doubly shocked by the extent of the pain it brings with it in the form of "a sharp ache" that hasn't been touched in years.

Not only has Nick lost his best childhood mate; he must also face the ramifications that Rob's death will come to symbolize profound change and perhaps even part of the beginning of his new life. Left with the ghost of Rob forming the words "question authority," in his mind, Nick is left to sort through the detritus of Rob's shattered and broken life, contemplating how and why his best friend came to commit this shocking act.

Nick's wife, Lucy, is far less than interested in sharing his bereavement. She's never quite trusted the "wildness" of Nick's best friend - or liked hearing his stories. Nick is mystified at the vehemence of his wife's disgust, because Rob was a deep friend, "part of the landscape of ancient memory." To be sure, Nick thrived on telling Lucy over a glass of wine and also his two young sons, Dwight and Will, the passionate life of his friend and the spectacular scrapes they had both gotten into over the years.

In the days following the murder, no one ever talks about how much Rob loved Kate, and no one speaks about how deeply attached to her he was - or how he began to feel himself literally shrinking as her literary celebrity began to grow. Why, then, did Rob become so vulnerable and willfully assert his own and Kate's destruction?

Was it Kate's bourgeoning friendship with the seemingly villainous David Framkin, a bald-headed fifty-ish corporate raider who had offered to bankroll Kate's career? Was it her mysterious aloofness and her untouchable composure that seemed to entrance the many men who wooed her?

Rob's death is a catalyst for Nick and for Lucy, who believes that Rob's demise has set off in her husband a strange emotional contraction and a "new wave of withdrawal" that gradually creeps "unopposed into the very heart of their marital bed." It doesn't help that Rob's seductive sister, Belinda, is back in Monarch. An ex-rock and roll singer, Belinda is a "bomb dropper by nature." She experimented sexually with Nick when they were teenagers, and now she wants to a piece of him again, even as she attempts to mourn her brother.

It is an old yearbook that jumpstarts Nick's journey into his past life with Rob, the story alternating between the boys' childhood and their adult existences, laying out the case for what Rob brought into Nick's life: a sense of fearlessness and going for it no matter whatever the odds. It is, however, Rob's boozy, bitter, broken-down mother, Shirley Caster, who provides the final, brutal nail in the coffin in the form of a long-buried family secret that will forever alter Nick's life.

Now You See Him explores the power of the artist to live in his own imagination, the surrender to the slavery of sex, and how twin paths in the form of a childhood friendship can lead all the way back to the beginning of shared time. Nick is blindsided by Rob's exit, his friend's death helping to speed along the ruin of his marriage and estranging him from his children while sending his father to hospital, and also driving a stake through the heart of his relationship with his mother.

All is drenched in marital infidelity and murder; everyone is a victim. Nick especially is wracked with envy for his dead friend, wondering with a small inner part of himself what it would have been like to be loved like that, "to be desired and admired as an outstanding example of something" at the same time that he is in danger of making some of the most selfish and immature mistakes of his life.

The characters in this book are all spiraling, the sense of terrible inevitability permeating their lives. Most of them are bitter, abusive and unlikable, yet they are also fervently yearning for something that they just can't have. In the end, this is a riveting and quite beautifully written work of literary fiction that works to pull back the layers of emotion and reach right into the darkest and most brutal areas of the human heart.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2008

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