Review: Now You See Him

It's Updike-land, but thrills are cheap


Eli Gottlieb,
Serpent’s Tail, £7.99

The life of Nick Framingham, ostensible protagonist of Eli Gottlieb’s second novel, Now You see Him, is in free-fall. His best friend, Rob Castor, the golden boy who seemed to have it all, has killed his girlfriend and then killed himself; Nick’s marriage is in trouble and he’s in a dead-end job. He’s a bit young to be having a mid-life crisis but all the classic signs are there.

Or, put it another way, Nick’s in Updike-land. He lives in a small-town suburb. He never had the get-up-and-go to get up and go (unlike Rob who left for New York). He is nostalgic for his childhood, which he always remembers as sunny summer afternoons, and he is tempted by an ex-girlfriend. Everything is seen from the put-upon male narrator’s point of view and women don’t come out of it too well. He’s just nicer than they are, again in an Updike sort of way.

There are two big differences from Updike, however. First, the writing; but more troubling is the question of melodrama. There aren’t many shootings or suicides in Updike. Now You See Him sets up an interesting character with a very interesting childhood, but then worries that it needs to hook the reader with something more exciting, so every now and again we get some short chapters about Rob and the murder-suicide.

It is as if the novel has become a pantomime horse, part-Updike realism and part-TV movie which wanted to grow up and be a low-budget thriller.
Gottlieb doesn’t need this because he writes well. His prose is assured and readable. He creates interesting characters, and moves between the main characters’ shared childhood and the present day in an easy, page-turning way. But Rob remains a problem. Like Kurtz or Gatsby, he’s the sort of character who is elusive throughout. We see him only through Nick’s eyes. And as the title says, now you see him…

He became “a minor cult celebrity in his mid-20s for writing a book of darkly pitch-perfect stories set in a stupid sleepy upstate New York town”. But actually you would rather spend time with Nick, the boy next door, whose life is less dramatic and less complicated — or so we think.

This is a sad, suburban thirtysomething novel but enjoyable to read in a bitter-sweet way.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive