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Vicky Bauer is a woman who comes from a painful past. We are given only enough information about it to help us grasp that being the child of now divorced Irish/Native American parents has brought her much pain, and is partially meant to explain why she is an alcoholic living in what might be a loveless marriage. (This is left as vague and ambiguous to the reader as it seems to Vicky.)
Because of her alcoholism and insecurity, she finds herself uncomfortably living with husband Conrad in Germany (though they are both Canadian citizens), his native land before WWII. Here she witnesses a murder one day, only to discover that nobody will believe her, because by the time she has reported it and come back, the body is missing. She has difficulty convincing anyone that it really happened because she has had enough public drunken outbursts and episodes that they simply assume it is another of those.
Yet strange and frightening incidents begin to occur that convince her she was right, but always leave her unable to persuade anyone else that they are connected to the murder she saw. At some point, her own life is in danger as she tries to find the truth of what really happened.
The writing in this book wonderfully portrays the edgy, often confusing world Vicky inhabits--partly a result of her own foggy, often intoxicated mind, and partly because the reader can see that things are happening that put her increasingly into disbelief by others. This book almost has the sense of "Gaslight" where someone was trying to get the heroine to think she was crazy. As Vicky struggles to get proof of the murder, she begins to believe that something evil is afoot.
The writer has cleverly portrayed Vicky as a graduate student writing a dissertation on women as they have been portrayed by men in the history of film. Her belief is that women have so long seen themselves through the gaze of the masculine that they identify with that image. This has a parallel in the story where the reader sees Vicky struggling with her attempts to trust herself and her own competence, or live in the doubts planted about her by others as simply being a mentally ill alcoholic woman whom others laugh about.
There is good tension through the book, between Vicky and her husband, between Vicky and her friends and the military on the base in Germany where they live, and especially within Vicky herself as she tries to understand her own reality. We watch as her beliefs about the crime are disconfirmed, leading her to question who she is, just as the author parallels that with Vicky's thesis that women's realities are disconfirmed in film because they are given through the viewpoint of men.
A well-written book that holds tension till the last, where the protagonist is ably presented with the dual characteristics of likable or pitiful. In fact, in a place in the book, her husband explains that he married her out of pity for her condition in life, but that "pity is a kind of love." That is how the reader is left feeling about her, too.
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