10/23/13, Review of The Preservationist by Justin Kramon.
Justin Kramon’s book is just out. He says it’s “a psychological thriller, written as a tribute to some of the classic thrillers I love, from Hitchcock to Ruth Rendell to Stephen King to Patricia Highsmith to Henning Mankell.”
I don’t know the last time a had so much to say to a character while I was reading a book. Most often I was saying aloud: No! Don’t do it! Don’t go there!
In short, punchy chapters Justin Kramon creates characters as quirky as those in Finny, his charming first novel. In The Preservationist, Kramon’s characters are not just odd, they might be dangerous. Page by page, Kramon ratchets up the dread level as the story spins into life inside the heads of the three main characters.
Julia Stilwell, a college freshman, used to play the trumpet well enough to consider making a career of it. Her recently scarred lip has changed her future, and she’s moved away from everyone who reminds her of her big mistake, one that caused her brother to die. She’s willing to lie rather than talk about it. She’s willing to joke, too, with a risque humor that masks naivety. The most daring of the jokes are saved for her roommate, Leanette, the only normal person in Julia’s life. I yell at Julia to be more forthcoming with Leanette. her: Julia, honey, talk to her. Stop the jokes for a minute and tell her the idiot things you’re doing and thinking. She’ll tell you what I want to tell you. Don’t talk to that boy Marcus, or that man Sam. Just don’t! Find someone dull like Leanette’s boyfriend.
Julia’s almost boyfriend, Marcus, plays jazz piano and he’s good at it, but he only plays in secret. He looks like a person who’s hiding something and he is, something to do with the death of someone called Tree. Julia reminds him of Tree.
Sam, the cute guy who works at the snack bar, (Run, Julia! Run!) thinks Julia is the girl he could love. He lies as easily as breathing, and half-remembers confusing things about earlier girlfriends. He remembers things about his mother, and his father too. Not nice things. But he knows how to draw a woman closer, knows exactly what to say to Julia. He’s experienced. Run, Julia! Run away!
Of course Julia doesn’t run. This is a psychological thriller and Kramon is really good at letting the reader see just enough to be terrified about whatever is going to happen. The narrative flows easily from Julia’s troubled but trusting head, to Sam’s scary thoughts that run on upper and lower shelves of his brain, to Marcus’s sad, lonely head brooding over unhealed wounds.
As Julia is about to confess to Sam about her brother, he tells her about his mother’s recent death—a death that’s actually years in the past— diverting her confession and evoking her sympathy. This relationship isn’t going to go any place good. No, Julia! Don’t kiss him, not in front of Marcus. Don’t do it. Of course, she doesn’t listen.
The dread grows. Two questions come to mind: Has Julia’s gotten mixed up with one pervert, or two, or possibly three? And, how bad is it going to be?
The dread grows. Julia’s sad, anxious father phones to remind her about her meds, shows up at her door to to take her home, but she won’t listen to him either. Sam’s dead mother never gave a thought to rescuing Sam. No one ever knew Marcus needed rescuing.
Julia gets into bed with Sam, the preservationist, who saves secrets in an old shoebox. Julia sees the box but doesn’t get to look inside. Julia’s in over her head and she ought to talk to Leanette, but she’s too embarrassed.
Marcus threatens Sam telling him he’d better treat Julia well, because he’s looking out for her. The dorm room window is open when it should be closed. Girls on campus are raped. The window is open and something messy is thrown into the dorm room.
Marcus tells Julia things about Sam. Sam tells Julia things about Marcus. Julia believes the lies.
The dread builds. Julia agrees to go to a far clinic with Sam. But they’ll have to spend the night in a camp run by a compulsive shopper and the wife he calls the general. Sam and Julia are the only guests. Julia doesn’t have a cell phone. and the cabin’s phone wire has been cut. There’s snow, isolation, a text message calling for help, police who suspect a prank. Julia looks in the shoebox and researches what she finds there. At last, she knows what she’s up against. She acts, but is it enough or is it too late? Marcus acts. Everything goes wrong, but he perseveres. Will he be in time? Sam acts, but things are not going as planned. Is it his finale?
The exciting climax is everything you expect of a psychological thriller. I dare you to read it without offering frequent advice to Julia. I don’t think you can do it.
Well written, Justin Kramon. Write us another.