January 2004

Gena Anderson

fiction

In the Cut by Susanna Moore

In the Cut, (slang for vagina, the street usage meaning a safe place to hide) begins with a half-witnessed blowjob in the basement of a seedy bar, which sets the tone for this intellectual and precisely written thriller by Susanna Moore.

Thirty five year old Frannie is an English teacher, compiling lists of slang definitions (e.g. synonyms for guns such as biscuit, jammie, or puppy) especially New York street slang, and the different cultures the words derive from. She starts out as a vaguely dissatisfied woman, divorced and with few friends, and ends up being sexually obsessed with one man. The book is narrated in her semi-distracted voice. She is focused on making observations about others from a middle-class, scholarly viewpoint, at times seeming condescending rather than informative.

After a visit from Detective James Malloy when a woman is found murdered in her neighborhood, Frannie finds herself interested in the detective and ultimately gets involved in his case, and also with him. The murdered woman turns out to be the one she saw giving the blowjob, and when other women are found disarticulated (pulled apart at the joints), Frannie is drawn into the world of the foul-mouthed and sexually experienced Malloy.

The scenes between the detective and his partner, Detective Ricardo Rodriguez, seem the most genuine scenes in the book, using language and police jargon with confidence. Moore captures the rapid-fire buddy talk, racist and sexist dialogue of two near burned-out cops in a way that makes me think maybe sheís spent time inside a police station in New York. What seems least comfortable, and at times awkwardly written, are the scenes with Frannie and Cornelius, a black student whom she gets much of her information on slang from. In the way, the awkwardness works to the readerís advantage because it further highlights the contrast between her life and the lives of the people whose language she studies. I even wondered if the author was conscious of the incongruity of these passages when she has Frannie observe that people who try to speak outside their context end up sounding like assholes.

The book is also a bit plot-less, content with meandering observations on words and their meanings, and a few sex scenes. The secondary characters, such as her friend John, her student Cornelius, and her co-worker Mr. Reilly mostly seemed like halfhearted attempts to throw in murder suspects, and the obligatory best friend who I can assume was created for the sole purpose of being killed off seemed like more of a distraction than was needed. Since any reader can sense the book is focused on Frannie and Malloyís relationship for a good reason, these other characters were not really necessary. When you finally do find out who the killer is, itís a bit of an obvious letdown. The ending, however, does make up for any disappointment with the revelation of the killer -- it surprised me with its brutality and how it still managed to fit in with the ironic detachment of the rest of the book.

I would recommend In the Cut for an intensely quick read -- it is a short but powerful book on language and violence, how they are related and how someone could struggle to define violence but never be able to convey itís reality. In the Cut by Susanna Moore
Plume
ISBN: 0452281296
192 Pages