Review

The Uninvited

by Liz Jensen

For quite some time, Liz Jensen has been exploring --- and in some cases exploding --- not only the boundaries between reality and fantasy in the subject matter of her fiction, but also the boundaries between fiction genres. Her novels are literary in style but often approach their topics through the lens of paranormal phenomena, science fiction premises, or other seemingly outlandish ideas. Her latest effort is no exception.

"Jensen's novel is not only truly creepy and in some places terrifying... it's also an intriguing character study of what happens when a person purely defined by rationality, order and common sense confronts an utterly irrational and nonsensical phenomenon."

THE UNINVITED offers readers a great deal of narrative experimentation. Jensen's narrator is Hesketh Lock, an anthropologist who freely admits to having Asperger's Syndrome or otherwise falling somewhere on the autism spectrum. He's a specialist in behavioral patterns, possibly the perfect job for this hyperrational man who pays attention to the most minute details, and who seems, at least on the outside, to be unswayed by emotional attachments or irrational beliefs.

Hesketh has been assigned to investigate a troubling pattern of workplace violence. In every case, stretching from Japan to Dubai to Sweden, a case of industry sabotage or whistle-blowing is followed soon thereafter by the supposed saboteur's suicide. He is at a loss to explain the common elements that tie these cases together, especially when their connections become nearly impossible to map out using Hesketh's beloved Venn diagrams.

Meanwhile, Hesketh becomes increasingly intrigued by a series of news stories about young children committing horrific acts of violence against loved ones, with no apparent motivation or remorse. Certainly the Venn diagrams for these child murders have no overlap with the workplace cases he is focusing on professionally. Or do they?

As the patterns become less easy to define using rational methods, and as the explanation (such as it is) becomes more and more outlandish, Hesketh finds himself unmoored, unable to use the tools he relies on to make sense of the world. Meanwhile, the one person to whom he unabashedly shows affection --- his stepson Freddy --- may hold the clue to the terrors that he is uncovering.

Jensen's novel is not only truly creepy and in some places terrifying (this isn't the kind of book you want to read in a quiet house on a dark night alone); it's also an intriguing character study of what happens when a person purely defined by rationality, order and common sense confronts an utterly irrational and nonsensical phenomenon. Hesketh's coping mechanisms, both physical (he constructs origami models) and verbal, are fascinating to parse. They enable readers to remain firmly grounded in real-world literary analysis, even as they're being scared out of their shoes by Jensen's unsettling tale.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 31, 2013

The Uninvited
by Liz Jensen