book review: Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
Overview: The narrator runs into an old college acquaintance in the airport during a flight delay, and he ends up in the first class lounge getting to know this old acquaintance, Jeff, better than he ever anticipated. Over the course of many hours and many drinks, the narrator learns the story of Jeff's life from the day he saved a man drowning in the ocean to his entanglement with the family of the man he saved. The story is full of twists and moral gray right up to the final line. Overall: 4.5
Characters: 4 This book is unique in the sense that the narrator is one of the least important characters to the novel. We know that he's a writer in rumpled clothes on a probably useless trip to meet his German publisher. He admires, and seemingly envies, Jeff's polished, businessman look and his first class ticket. But the narrator simply hears and relates the story Jeff tells him, only inserting himself occasionally into the narrative to ask questions.
Jeff is the central character, but because of the specific lens of the story, he doesn't show much development. He does start as a lost recent college grad house sitting and becomes an art dealer, but emotionally, there's not a ton of growth or maturity as he becomes obsessed with the man he saves and winds his way into the man's interior life – working at his gallery, dating his daughter, becoming a protege. He's constantly torn between embracing what this weird journey has given him and feeling guilty about the deceit it's built on as no one around him seems to acknowledge the drowning accident or know he was the good Samaritan.
Within the story, we get to know Francis, the gallery owner that Jeff saved, his daughter, Chloe, and his wife, Allison. Most of the inner-workings of the book revolve around his deepening relationship with Chloe and learning more about the art world. The characters are developed enough to feel real, interesting, and compelling, but it's hard to say the book is really about them in a truly meaningful way.
Plot: 5 There's a story within a story. The shell of the airport and the strange confession that bookends the different eras of Jeff's journey and then the actual plot that keeps you turning the page about Jeff's strange entanglements with Francis's family and how the secrets and lies unfold. Though there's a certain amount of mundane recounting of regular days, the pacing is strong and keeps you turning the pages. The plot has enough surprising twists that the book feels dynamic and maintains intrigue.
Writing: 4 The writing is strong here. It creates tension in a book where the twisty points are fairly far apart from one another and the shell story is decently boring (getting stuck on a layover in the airport). While there aren't particular lines that really jumped out to me, the story gelled well overall and was interesting on a sentence level despite not being completely notable.