Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rapture by Thomas Tessier (1987): Now You're In the Man from Mars

I'm sure upon seeing this lurid paperback cover (Warner, October 1989) for his sixth novel, author Thomas Tessier felt no bliss at all. Rapture features nothing even close to that tacky terrible art, fit more for some Psycho rip than for the even-tempered criminal psychological study it actually is. Now, scroll down a take a peek at the original hardcover from Atheneum Press: that's a scene right from the book! Amazing, right? I picked up Rapture solely because it was a Tessier novel; I'm not a huge fan of slasher stuff, so I hoped the cover was only minimally accurate. I never even glanced at the back cover's little synopsis, and I'm glad I didn't because I had no idea what to expect as I began reading, and was more than a little pleasantly surprised - we usually have some idea what a book is about when we pick it up, no? Tessier's prose and conviction kept me riveted to the page; it's terrific, a literate, precise, and chilling thriller. You should stop reading here if you'd like to be surprised as I was.

1987 hardcover

While Rapture isn't as decadent or perverse as his excellent Finishing Touches, neither is the novel as ambiguous as The Nightwalker; Rapture is a cool and collected expose of the sociopathic mind. Tessier spends much time detailing Jeff Lisker's growing obsession with an old high school friend (platonic, however), Georgianne Slaton. Both are now in their early thirties and live successful lives on opposite coasts: he owns an up-and-coming software business in LA; she's raising a family in their hometown of Millville, Connecticut. When Jeff's father dies he goes home for the funeral and tracks down Georgianne... but in a rather creepy manner: he follows her from her home and pretends to "accidentally" bump into her as she runs errands in town. Soon he's having dinner with her, her husband Sean, whose sarcasm, condescension, and impatience simmer barely below the surface (or is that just Jeff's insecurity?), and Bonnie, their brilliant teenage daughter just out of high school. Bonnie, who looks not unlike Georgianne 20-odd years ago. He decides he will simply take Georgianne from Sean. That's it. No matter how.

Georgianne would fall into his arms, and Bonnie would come with her. Sean was on the way out; he just didn't know it yet. And why not? Why the fuck not? "Take her," he said aloud. "I'll just take her!" And as he said this over and over again, he fell in love with the words, what they meant and the sheer beautiful sound of them. He seemed to be completing a sentence he'd begun to form during some previous incarnation.

2006 Leisure Books reprint

Tessier's great trick is that he slowly guides us into Jeff's mind, its rationalizations and inventions, its almost charming delusions, its grandiose planning and seeming lack of guile, that we don't quite realize just how fucking crazy he is, and when we do... his motivation still makes perfectly logical sense. It's why the book is so readable; it's all so easily believable, since the characters and situations feel so real. There is wit too, black wit, as when Jeff muses, while sitting in a coffeeshop, what its name means: Au Bon Pain. Why, it means "Oh Good Pain!" Heh. In a lesser-skilled writer, a couple twists in Rapture would seem forced; Tessier can make them seem like destiny. 

He had treated the whole thing like a problem at work... you let it simmer in the depths of your brain, and sooner or later the answer will come to the surface. It was, he reckoned, an essentially creative process.... He belonged to the select handful of individuals who had the courage, imagination, and sheer will to create their own destinies.

 1989 UK paperback

One step follows another, problems arise and are dispatched, all leading deeper and deeper into a conflagration of desire and death. "Desire" is key as well, as Tessier is one of the field's great erotic writers, understanding and presenting sex not as exploitation, but as human nature. Jeff's sex life, as well as his fantasies, are on full view in Rapture, and in this, we truly see his self-absorption. That then-current reference to Fatal Attraction in the cover blurb isn't so ridiculous. Jeff will not be ignored by Georgianne, nor by Bonnie; he will not be thwarted from his path, not even if something inside him knows just how doomed his plan is:

He was floating in darkness, high above the earth, and a voice was broadcasting a message to his brain: Stay there, don't come back.


~ said...

I have this in the tacky Warners cover. :) I'll have to move it up in the to-be-read pile! I like Tessier's writing, "Nightwalker" was a creepy, subtle book.

William Malmborg said...

This sounds like one I need to read. I always love it when a writer is able to get the reader inside the mind of a crazy person, especially if they do it in a way that makes you able to identify with the person.

Jerry Smith said...

hey Will Errickson,

very interesting tale of Rapture, I did not watch but after read your entire post I feel that this will be really great like AYAOTD

Alejandro Omidsalar said...

I've got to get back into Tessier. I've got a copy of Wicked Things on my shelf that I've been meaning to read for some time now.

On another note... Will, if you're looking for another cool and collected expose of the sociopathic mind, look no further than Joyce Carol Oates' transcendently terrifying "Zombie." Can't recommend it enough. Just floating the recommendation out there. I was skeptical at first, but I cracked that sucker open and was surprised beyond surprised.

Will Errickson said...

I definitely have heard good things about Zombie. Also interested in her '70s collection of short supernatural stories called Night-Side. Her lengthy essay on Lovecraft back in the mid-'90s was essential in his "discovery" by more mainstream literary critics.

Optimus Prime said...