by Melissa Ginsburg
Twenty-two-year-old Charlotte Ford reconnects with Danielle, her best friend from high school, a few days before Danielle is found bludgeoned to death in a motel room. In the wake of the murder, Charlotte’s life unravels and she descends into the city’s underbelly, where she meets the strippers, pornographers and drug dealers who surrounded Danielle in the years they were estranged.
Ginsburg’s Houston is part of a lesser known south, where the urban and rural collide gracelessly. In this shadowy world, culpability and sympathy blur in a debut novel which thrillingly brings its three female protagonists to the fore. Scary, funny and almost unbearably sad, Sunset City is written with rare grace and empathy holding you transfixed, praying for some kind of escape for Charlotte.
Charlotte Ford is greeted on the landing of her building by a detective. He is there to tell her that her best friend Danielle has been murdered. Danielle and Charlotte were the closest of friends in high school, but drifted apart when Danielle got involved in hard drugs and was sent to prison for four years. The girls had recently been back in touch when Danielle’s estranged mother paid Charlotte for her daughter’s phone number. Charlotte was hoping they would be able to restart their friendship.
At the funeral Charlotte meets up with Danielle’s friends and colleagues, all of them involved in the seedy business of drugs and porn. Lost and alone in the world, Charlotte, wanting to know how such a thing could have happened to her glamorous friend, allows herself to descend into a chaotic lifestyle.
Charlotte is a brilliant three dimensional character. Grief-stricken and bewildered, she flounders around in a world she really doesn’t understand. Trusting people more broken than her to lead her. With no-one and nothing to anchor her, she tries to numb her grief through drugs, hard liquor and sex.
This is a fine example of noir fiction. With the backdrop of Houston and its dark underbelly and the people who lives like ghosts in that, and other, large impersonal cities: unseeable.
“Loud and ugly, the place banged on my eyes.”
I loved the spare writing style of this book, reminding me somewhat of Raymond Carver. It sweeps over you from the first page, turning a devastating experience into poetical melancholy.
“A big truck charged past and blew a cloud of dirt and exhaust into the car. Exhaust, my fellow inhabitant. We lived together in Peter’s car.”
If you like dark, noir fiction this book is highly recommended; gutsy and raw. I suspect this author will go on to great things, I am looking forward to her next novel already.
Many thanks to Kate McQuaid at Faber & Faber for sending me a copy.