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Onyx reviews: Animosity by David Lindsey

If Alfred Hitchcock was still making films, he would probably option David Lindsey's Animosity. It has all the classic Hitchcock thriller elements: beguiling women, mistaken relationships and a person whose life - in a matter of moments - is turned upside down.

Sculptor Ross Marteau is almost as well-known for his high-profile lifestyle as he is for his art. Other sculptors and art critics think Ross is a sell-out, an accusation he embraces. He has fallen into a comfortable pattern of taking commissions from rich men to sculpt their beautiful wives. While not artistically challenging, these assignments are certainly lucrative.

Ross's relationships with women have been less successful; he seems to have problems seeing beyond women's external features. Perhaps to counteract the lack of challenge in his work, Ross habitually forms dangerous, volatile liaisons with unpredictable and temperamental women. These relationships chronically self-destruct, with the media capturing every step of his very public breakups.

After the nasty dissolution of a three-year relationship with another sculptor, Ross decamps from his Paris home to San Rafael, Texas, an artistic resort town where only the rich can afford the historic properties. He has a new commission and his isolated, well-appointed ranch provides the perfect retreat for him to lick his wounds.

He has barely unpacked when Céleste Lacan enters his life. A woman of depth, beauty and mystery, Céleste seeks Ross out with an intriguing proposition for him, another commission. Céleste wants him to sculpt her sister, Leda, who is at once more beautiful than Céleste and more grotesque than any woman he has ever seen. She suffers from kyphosis; humpback disease. The dichotomy of her classic features and a shockingly disfigured body challenges Ross. He knows that this work will be controversial.

Leda is a tormented soul, every day a reminder of her disfigurement. Each new encounter accentuates the duality of her existence—disarming beauty and hideous deformity. Ross strives to capture her unfamiliar lines, to establish her center of gravity while also trying to probe the depths of her psyche.

Ross's interest in Leda is intellectual. It is Céleste who has captured his heart. She hahs separated from a husband who periodically returns to inflict his warped version of romance on her. Céleste tolerates his brutality because she has no other means of financing Leda's medical expenses. Tormented, she tells Ross that their relationship is a mistake doomed to fail.

When Michel Lecan appears in San Rafael, things go terribly wrong and Ross suddenly finds his comfortable life threatened. In moments he becomes a Hitchcock protagonist, afraid for his life and freedom. It is here that Animosity kicks into overdrive and does not let up until the closing pages. As the screws tighten on Ross, his situation goes from bad to worse to insufferable. There seems to be no light at the end of this tunnel and he spirals into depression and despair, unable to find help even from his closest friend, Amado, who understands him like no one else.

The true meaning of Animosity does not become clear until the closing pages of the book. An astute reader may have divined what motivates the characters who bears animosity toward Ross, but this only scratches the surface. As the book rockets to a close, the same reader will surely be distraught at the thin sliver of pages left in which Lindsey must wrap up the story.

The dust jacket blurbs promise an unforgettable ending and the conclusion will certainly rival the controversiality of his earlier novel, Mercy. It's probably not the ending Hitchcock would have chosen and it will undoubtedly leave many readers stunned and aghast.

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