Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 July 2019
The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like.
The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night.
There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasizing about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?
Looker is not a huge read, but goodness it packs a major punch. It is a beautifully written, first person account of a woman’s gradual implosion.
Stylishly written and with a haunting menace to the prose, Sims has taken two unnamed characters and given us a beautifully observed character portrait that lingers long in the mind.
The Professor is struggling, though she works hard at not showing it. The strain of a series of failed IVF treatments has taken its toll on her marriage and now her husband, Nathan, has moved out, leaving only the cat behind.
Her job is precarious and she fears it is only a matter of time before the teaching sessions she is offered come to an end altogether.
In the midst of this lonely existence in a high density run-down three story apartment, she notes the gentrification of the area; across the road the brownstones are occupied by the better off, leading more glamorous lives.
One such brownstone occupant is The Actress, a woman who embodies all that The Professor doesn’t have. Well off, a mother of three and a wife; recognised by her public, yet living just across the road, The Professor becomes fascinated by this woman who is the antithesis of her own, sad, life.
The Professor can’t help but look in the windows of the Actresses house, watching her perfect life and imagining that could be her world. She imagines herself to be the Actress, channelling her as she goes into her teaching sessions and reaching for her poise, her voice as she reads the poetry she has set for her class.
In her depression, the Professor becomes wholly engaged by the Actress’s life. There is no corner of her life that the Professor doesn’t want to know and understand.
As events unfold and the day draws near when face to face interaction seems more than likely, we see the Professor’s obsession grow as her mind gets ever darker.
Sims writes with clarity and beautifully descriptive prose which imbues the reader with an ever growing sense of a chilling dread. You know this isn’t going to end well, but like watching a car crash in slow motion, it is impossible to look away.
Looker is a fascinating and richly drawn character study. It is a story of one woman’s descent into the abyss and what happens when she reaches rock bottom.
Verdict: Compelling, realistic, utterly immersive, Looker is an astonishingly rich portrait of a woman whose mental stability is in rapid decline.
Laura Sims is the author of Looker, a debut novel. She has published four books of poetry, most recently Staying Alive, and is the editor of Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson. She lives outside of New York City with her family.