What is the value of saving someone’s life if they turn out to be “an asshole”? In his latest novel, a Highsmithian literary thriller, Antoine Wilson tracks the aftermath of a fateful intersection of two strangers.
The story at the heart of Mouth to Mouth is nested within a framing device. The narrator, a struggling writer in his forties, runs into Jeff Cook, an old classmate from UCLA, while on a layover at JFK. With both of their flights delayed, Cook invites him to the lounge and, over beers, proceeds to share a story he claims he has never told anyone before.
Shortly after graduation, alone on a Santa Monica beach, Cook sees a swimmer in crisis. Acting on instinct, he rescues and resuscitates the drowning man. When he doesn’t receive any thanks, Cook becomes curious about the person he gave a second chance at life, a gallerist named Francis Arsenault. Cook tails him, ostensibly to make sure he’s all right. He takes an entry-level job at Arsenault’s gallery but gets more embroiled than expected when he begins dating Arsenault’s daughter, Chloe, and is quickly promoted. “I never forget a face,” says Arsenault, but doesn’t let on if he recognises Cook from the beach.
Wilson’s 2007 debut, The Interloper, was a first-person account of a man who becomes increasingly unhinged as he seeks to avenge the murder of his brother-in-law. In his 2012 follow-up, Panorama City, Wilson pivoted from noir to humour, with a Forrest Gump-type narrator imparting wisdom to his unborn son. While Wilson’s first two novels plumbed the polarities of good and evil, Mouth to Mouth keeps us guessing by swinging between the two…
Read the full review online in the Financial Times