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In COLLECTORS Paul Griner weaves together a suspenseful thriller
with a meditation on collecting --- and the results are oddly
affecting. Not all that much happens in the course of the novel:
The protagonist, Jean Duprez, meets Steven Cain; they then go on
two dates that both end strangely. In the spaces between these
encounters, we learn about Jean, her mysterious past, and her
penchant for collecting pens. After an afternoon of pen shopping,
Jean has an encounter with a woman selling sugar-cube dog
sculptures and remarks, "Every vendor has a perfect buyer, someone
out their waiting to find her... Her day would come, someone would
seek her out and surprise her with the strength of his interest,
but if she did not wait for it, she would not do well." This is a
philosophy that applies not only to her pen collection, but also to
her relationship with Steven --- which has disturbing

Griner's fascination with collecting holds the reader's interest
because the particular collectors he examines are strange (Steven
is a collector too --- of binoculars). Both have mysterious pasts,
both exhibit antisocial behavior, both aren't particularly likable.
These are strange people in an even stranger situation, which makes
this a strange novel to read. But for all that Jean and Steven have
in common, Griner handles the characterizations of each of them
very differently. It's not just that we see more of Jean because
she's the protagonist --- we have access to her thoughts, we know
how she feels when she first meets Steven, how she feels waiting
for his phone calls, how she feels after their first, spectacularly
chilling date. Steven is more of a mystery. Any impressions we may
have of his character come through his brief conversations with
Jean, or Jean's mental impressions of him.

Griner builds a great deal of suspense with this approach to
characterization. Even though we take Jean for a bright,
successful, intelligent woman, her response to Steven's creepy
behavior is just plain irrational --- even though we have access to
her rationalizations of his creepiness. It's like a scene in a
horror movie where a naive young coed enters an abandoned house and
the killer is inside. The audience yells because they have
information that that young coed doesn't have --- they hear ominous
music, they see a camera shot of the killer in the closet, gleaming
knife in hand. In THE COLLECTORS, Jean has as much information as
the reader has, everyone is on equal footing; but Jean, not a dippy
coed but a bright professional woman, hears the ominous music,
deconstructs it, and decides not to make much of its significance.
She knows as much as the reader that Steven is terribly odd but she
is compelled to return to him, to long for him. It's simply
maddening. But then again, it's not wholly inexplicable. Lust and
attraction distort reality, they can make people weak. It's hard to
watch a seemingly strong, self-possessed person crumble under the
weight of these emotions.  

THE COLLECTORS is a satisfying, well-paced first novel that makes
an excellent choice for fans of literary fiction and thrillers
alike. For all its strangeness, it's an undeniably suspenseful
story that will leave you breathless by novel's end.

Reviewed by Rachel Kempster on January 21, 2011

by Paul Griner

  • Publication Date: February 3, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312271905
  • ISBN-13: 9780312271909