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THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART by Peter Swanson: Book Review

When I first heard about The Girl with a Clock for Heart, I didn’t understand what the title meant.  But after reading Peter Swanson’s remarkable first novel, I totally get it.  Liana Decter has no more feeling, no more empathy, than a mechanical device.  She’s a human being without a heart.

George Foss is forty, working for a literary magazine and having an on-again off-again relationship with Irene, a woman he’s known for years.  But he can’t commit because he lost his heart (and some might say his reason) more than twenty years earlier when he was a college student.  That’s when he met Liana, then calling herself Audrey Beck, and the two of them had a passionate, whirlwind romance throughout their first semester. 

Each went home separately during winter break, George to Massachusetts and Audrey/Liana to Florida.  She gave him her phone number but asked that he not call her, saying that her parents wouldn’t be happy if she received calls from a boy she’d met at college.  She promised to contact him, but she never did.

The day George returned to Mather College, he phoned his girlfriend’s room several times but never got an answer.  Later that night, he got a call from her roommate telling him that Audrey was dead, having asphyxiated herself in her parents’ garage.  Devastated by grief, George takes a bus to the small Florida town where she had lived to pay his respects, only to find out that the girl at Mather calling herself Audrey Beck was actually someone else.  The real Audrey is dead, but where is the girl who has been using her name?  And who is she?

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart switches between past and present, between George’s college years and his current life.  George is one of the walking wounded.  On the outside, he’s gainfully employed, owns his own apartment, and is in a relationship.  On the inside, he’s stuck as the business manager of a literary magazine that’s destined to fold soon, and his relationship with Irene has been going nowhere for years.  He spends his nights at Jack Crow’s Tavern in Boston’s Back Bay, making a couple of drinks last as long as possible, before returning to his apartment where only his cat will be waiting for him.

But all that changes one night when, waiting for Irene to meet him for a drink, he looks across the tavern and sees Liana.  Even though two decades have passed, Liana still exerts an almost mystical hold over George, and when she tells him she’s come to him for help, he cannot resist.  Each favor she asks of him drags him more deeply into danger, but he’s helpless to stop himself.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is an incredible debut novel.  We all have known characters like George, who is so self-effacing that he has put his life on hold because of his first and only love.  And we’ve also known characters like Liana, so uncaring and selfish that, for them, the rest of the people in the world don’t exist.  Indeed, if Liana is the girl who feels nothing, George feels too much.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.