BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times May 15, 2008
by Philip K. Jason
On a superficial level, Tina Wainscott’s new “What Lies in Shadow” resembles her recent “Until the Day You Die,” the New England setting and the obsessed stalker motif being the two most obvious points of comparison. However, the two works are radically different in tone, complication, and characterization. And the dilemma that Wainscott’s protagonist, Jonna Karakosta, falls into has no resemblance to anything in the previous novel. Jonna has blogged herself into danger.
She begins innocently enough, developing a more adventurous version of herself, “Montene,” who entices an internet audience with her confessions and aspirations. Obliquely, through the Montene persona, Jonna reveals the unsatisfying state of her marriage. She and her husband have somehow been blocked from the kind of intimacy Jonna craves, and the blog that Montene generates brings forth an electronic suitor, Dominic, whose courtship of Montene via the blog turns into the preliminaries for an off-line relationship. Montene’s readers are privy to this affair-in-the making, writing in their own advice at each step of Montene’s journey and living vicariously through her adventure. The blog that Jonna has created is a huge success, with an audience ravenous for each successive entry.
And so Wainscott’s audience is hooked as well.
Jonna enjoys the excitement of her veiled popularity; she has certainly found a vein of frustration and yearning among her comment-posting readers. However, unknowingly, she has set herself up to be a victim of the man who calls himself Dominic. And once she finds out, which is soon after she decides to meet him, her excitement becomes tinged with and then dominated by terror. Jonna’s story, then, is a moral tale of the “be careful what you wish for” variety.
Wainscott artfully shifts narrative point of view, giving us glimpses of what Dominic and other characters are thinking without ever giving away too much. Provided with partial revelations about Dominic, about Jonna’s husband Rush, and about her best friend Beth, the reader attempts to anticipate and ride the waves of the unfolding plot. And this plot, revealed in part as a string of disguised motives, carefully guarded secrets, and formative influences from the characters’ early lives, moves swiftly and steadily ahead, sometimes in unexpected directions.
It is also a story of insecurity, suspicion, and betrayal. One of the novel’s strengths lies in the convincing dramatization of the emotional masking and distance that has paralyzed the relationship between Jonna and Rush. The mix of attraction, duplicity, and mistrust that swirls through each of these characters keeps readers longing for a breakthrough: “Hey, dummies, just be honest with one another.” But we all know how difficult that can be!
Another dimension of the story that works well is the efficient way in which Wainscott paints the working lives of Jonna and Rush. Jonna has a budding business as an event planner and Rush is co-owner of AngelForce, a company that finds investor funding to nourish young technology companies. There is just enough detail, just enough integration of their working lives into the characterizations and plot, and yet not too much. This material builds the credibility of the characters, connecting them to others in both commercial and social ways, and making them more than merely emotional bundles in a crumbling relationship.
“What Lies in Shadow” is a satisfying thriller by an established professional who just happens to be our neighbor. Find out more about her at http://www.tinawainscott.com.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.