Stephen Spignesi is an indefatigable wordsmith, having written literally dozens of works dealing with popular culture in general and icons such as Stephen King and the Beatles in particular. DIALOGUES is Spignesi's first foray into the world of fiction, and it is a haunting, memorable work on a number of levels.
DIALOGUES is told primarily in dialogue form; the book's overwhelming majority consists of conversations, transcripts and letters. There are exceptions, including two short stories and a novella, and a haunting prologue and epilogue. Tory Troy is a euthanasia technician at an animal shelter. Readers learn that this is an unusual position for this young woman to have, given what we come to know about her personality. Troy's life is full of contradictions, the greatest of which is manifested when she enters the shelter one Friday and murders six of her co-workers for reasons even she cannot explain.
Conversations with Troy and her defense attorney, mother and the court-appointed psychologist contemporaneously tell us much about Troy, but only hint at her motive, often clouding it even more than revealing it. Some school essays --- a one-page narrative from first grade, and a short story and novella from a high school creative writing course --- also drop hints as to who she is, what she has done, and more importantly, her state of mind --- yet nothing is clear until the very end. The dialogues herein actually tell us as much, if not more, about Troy's opposite number in any particular conversation than they do about Troy herself. Some of the most revealing conversations, in fact, are the ones that do not involve Troy at all, such as those among jurors during the deliberations involving her murder trial, or the sidebar conversations between Troy's defense attorney, the prosecutor and the judge.
What Spignesi has created in DIALOGUES is a work that transcends genres. While a novel of suspense, it is also a mystery, a character study, a courtroom thriller, and a more general work of fiction. In addition it is, interestingly enough, somewhat of a theological treatise, a work that is much deeper than it may initially seem, in a way that is only revealed after its conclusion. And though it is not manifestly obvious, Spignesi plays fairly with the reader as he proceeds to the astonishing ending. There was a point during my reading of the work when I realized what he was doing and immediately rejected my conclusion, which ultimately turned out to be correct.
Mysteries and conclusions aside, however, DIALOGUES almost perfectly captures and encapsulates a personality type. All of us know someone like Tory Troy, someone whom we might describe unkindly as "mousy" or charitably with the sobriquet "still waters run deep." You will never think of such an individual again without this book coming to mind.
Spignesi has several nonfiction projects in various stages of development as of this writing. Should he return to the world of fiction, however, DIALOGUES will be tough to top.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010