Peter Moore Smith, Raveling (Little, Brown, 2000)
[originally posted 30Nov2001]
Acclaimed short story writer Peter Moore Smith turns his talents to novel writing, and Raveling is his debut offering. It’s been received with, to be kind, mixed reviews, probably because it’s a genre novel—but what genre it is is somewhat elusive.
Pilot Airie is a diagnosed schizophrenic whose mental problems started after the abduction of his little sister twenty years before. His mother Hannah, who’s almost as neurotic as Pilot is, has started seeing double; his brother Eric, a successful neurosurgeon, says it’s psychosomatic. (Dad’s off in Florida with the new girlfriend.) Welcome to Oprahland, where dysfunction reigns supreme. Smith puts a twist on it, though—the story is completely told through the eyes of Pilot, who believes himself omniscient. Thus, we are forced to ask ourselves from page one, is any of this actually happening, or is it all in Pilot’s head? And if it IS really happening, what does that say about the underlying message about schizophrenia and its relation to (what we shall call for lack of a better term) extrasensory powers?
Sounds like a mystery, doesn’t it? Well, perhaps, or it could be a novel of the dysfuctional-fiction genre, focusing on drawing the character of Pilot and having him interact with those around him. Or a historical novel—not of the gothic-romance type, but a novel of the process of attempting to rebuild history (given Pilot’s narration, the mystery isn’t just about what happened to his sister, but about what’s happened to his family over the twenty years following what happened to Fiona, see?). And this is, perhaps, where some reviewers are getting sidetracked; how you approach the book will probably lead to how you view the last half of it. If it’s a conventional mystery, it very quickly gets predictable.
I chose to look at it as a kind of Pilot-vs.-the-world story, or a coming-of-age book about a thirty-year old schizophrenic, and that made all the difference. The solving of the mystery of Fiona is handled more in the sense of classical tragedy than contemporary mystery; you can see the ending coming a mile off, but that’s because the solving of the mystery itself is a background to the players and their motives; the real mystery for the reader lies in Pilot himself.
An enjoyable read, especially for a first novel. *** ½