Review

Panic Attack

by Jason Starr

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of what Jason
Starr has done within the pages of PANIC ATTACK, his latest novel.
The book garnered some pre-publication attention when he and
Minotaur Books opened a two-week window during which one could
obtain and read the work for free. Such a move requires a certain
degree of confidence that what you are giving away is good enough
that it will be purchased in more permanent form. That confidence
is met --- and rewarded. This is a work that transcends genres and
puts into collision the moral ambiguity of the characters of
Richard Prather, the seedy underbelly of humanity recorded by
Nelson Algren, and the fatal foibles of the well-to-do and
chronicled by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

PANIC ATTACK begins with a simple enough premise. The Bloom
residence --- inhabited by Dr. Adam Bloom, a psychologist; his wife
Dana; and their daughter Marissa, a recently graduated but still
unemployed 22-year-old --- is the object of a home invasion. Bloom
does the honorable thing in defending his family and fatally shoots
one of the intruders as the man is coming up the stairs; the other,
unobserved, barely escapes with his life. Problems begin almost
immediately. The intruder turns out to have been unarmed, the
couple had frequently quarreled about Adam having the firearm in
the house, and both Dana and Marissa are horrified that Adam has
killed someone.

Though they are living in a mental fairyland --- it is an
immutable law that when seconds count, which is the case
during a home invasion, the police are there in minutes --- it is
almost immediately obvious that there is much going on beneath the
surface of the Blooms’ family life. Dana and Adam keep
secrets, each from the other, which could easily tear the family
apart. Marissa, degree notwithstanding, is aimless and drifting,
spending her evenings drinking with friends who have begun their
own lives in the world of work while she spends her days writing a
blog and listening to her iPod.

The Blooms are not bad people; it is, in fact, a direct and
proximate if unintended result of their kindness that has led them
to be the targets of what was supposed to be a simple burglary.
While being full of oneself is not evil, it is a character flaw,
and what Starr shows us in bits and pieces is that both Adam and
Marissa are choking on their overstuffed egos. Adam considers
himself a hero and begins giving impromptu press conferences to the
press assembled on his front lawn following the shooting. He is
puzzled when he finds his words taken out of context, his intent
misinterpreted. Marissa is embarrassed for herself, not for her
father, whose actions were initiated, at least in part, for the
purpose of protecting her. For Adam and Marissa, everything is
about them, individually.

As we observe them constantly at loggerheads throughout the
course of PANIC ATTACK, we can only marvel at how much alike they
are. Dana is jaded and unhappy, a condition that was present even
before the Bloom household was breached. It is her unhappiness ---
a state of mind that exists notwithstanding the fact that she has
everything she wanted --- combined with her own sense of
post-menopausal entitlement that provides the means by which the
blocks that comprise the Bloom family come tumbling down.

While the family individually plays out their respective
aftermaths to the shooting, the second Bloom household burglar ---
the one who got away --- plots a twisted revenge. His skewed
morality demands a pound of flesh for the death of his accomplice,
even while it did not require that he stay and see to his friend
after he was shot, or wonder about the circumstances that found
them in another person’s home with bad intent to begin with.
His plan for retribution starts with research, followed by a
skillful and fascinating manipulation that results in his insertion
into the very lives of the Bloom family. This time, instead of
breaking in, he is invited in, with only one even remotely aware of
what is occurring until it is far too late. The book plays out to a
stunning and horrifying conclusion, one that will leave you
wondering who among the cast of characters is the greater
villain.

PANIC ATTACK is Starr’s best work to date, combining a
flawless plot with a pitch-perfect sense of storytelling that never
fails to surprise. He introduces the smartest character within its
final 60 pages, even as he sets up a climax that will make you
forget to breathe. You will remember to breathe again, but you will
never forget this book.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 14, 2011

Panic Attack
by Jason Starr

  • Publication Date: August 4, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312387067
  • ISBN-13: 9780312387068