Review

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts

by Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict writes in the manner in which Bryan Ferry sings:
there is a light, almost airy touch on the surface of her
narrative, one that almost masks the sensuality, decadence and
subtle terror of what lies beneath. When you begin reading CALLING
MR. LONELY HEARTS, Benedict’s latest work, I suggest
Ferry’s “Slave to Love” on repeat as your
background music. Not that the novel needs any accompaniment:
it’s pitch-perfect on its own, an addictive and haunting
wonder.

One might think from the title that Benedict has written a
chick-lit novel. While it shares some of the elements of that genre
--- following bffs from adolescence into adulthood, documenting joy
and heartbreak --- it does so only superficially. Instead, this
book will scare you, keep you up all night, and set every nerve in
your body on edge and on fire. It is as if Benedict set out to
complete the job left undone by Stephen King, John Updike, and yes,
maybe even Dante Alighieri. There are elements of all three here,
yet Benedict’s tale remains as unique and original as
anything you have read recently.

CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS begins with three friends on the cusp
of adolescence: Roxanne is advanced beyond her years, aware of the
power of her awakening sexuality; Alice is a needy satellite caught
in her orbit; and Del provides an uneasy counterbalance and buffer
of relative normality between the two. The girls participate in a
ceremony intended to bring to each of them a true and perfect love.
Their individual destinies are decided not by this innocent, almost
childish ritual (though it has an influence) but rather by an act
of seduction involving Father Romero, a young Catholic priest who
teaches at a Catholic girls’ school and who hides a prior sin
under a strong faith but whose passions become put to ill use.
Romero’s unwilling but ultimately headlong rush into sin
leads to a further betrayal and the end of his vocation, a state of
affairs for which he is not blameless but rather a victim as much
of his own weakness as he is of the girls’ guile.

Disgraced, Romero leaves behind the school, the priesthood ---
and a situation that he will not learn of for decades. Meanwhile,
Del, Roxanne and Alice remain in contact as they attain adulthood,
though they lead very different lives. Del is married to a widower
with a child and is overwhelmed, if happily so, with the
responsibilities. Roxanne is a successful artiste and, while
eschewing permanent relationships, has never met a husband she
couldn’t seduce. Alice is on the cusp of a failed marriage to
a successful dentist who is about to leave her for a woman who is
pregnant with his child.

Romero, teaching at a faraway community college, meets Varick,
an enigmatic creature who is willing to give Romero the revenge he
craves against the friends, in return for the ultimate price: his
life. Romero, seduced in the present as he was in the past, readily
agrees. Varick gradually insinuates himself into the lives of each
of the women in very different ways but with increasingly horrific
results. It is fascinating to watch Varick work his purposes with
the women --- a process that begins quite early in the book ---
particularly with Alice, who is all too willing to do
Varick’s diabolical bidding, even if it means destroying the
lives of innocents.

CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS is a reminder that evil rarely needs
to rudely intrude into our lives; in most instances, it is invited
to enter, even welcomed and embraced, though not always recognized
for what it is. Benedict’s chilling narrative is by turns
subtle, chilling and hauntingly erotic, as it describes events both
horrific and surprisingly redemptive. Most importantly, however,
from beginning to end it is as irresistible and unforgettable as a
gentle, unexpected kiss from a lovely, attractive stranger first
spied across a crowded room --- one that will take root in your
memory and never leave.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 26, 2010

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts
by Laura Benedict

  • Publication Date: December 30, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345497694
  • ISBN-13: 9780345497697