My problem is I’m a sucker for novels about authors and publishers. “Write what you know”, we teach novelists, and what might they know better than writing and dreaming of publication? I’m powerless to resist, both as an aspiring writer keen for insights and as a reader obsessed with the act of storytelling. There’s something about a story within a story that is highly seductive, don’t you think?
In Who is Maud Dixon? Florence, an ambitious aspiring novelist, attempts to steal the identity of the wildly successful author for whom she works as a research assistant. This alluring premise develops into a promising first act buzzing with the dynamic tension between ambition and self-doubt, storytelling and lies, fiction and reality, the persona and the self.
However, as with Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot or Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl, the story soon abandons its musings on the philosophical, existential or political nature of who gets to tell stories (including about themselves), and takes a wild turn into thriller territory instead. Here, Florence and her boss travel to Morocco, multiple hairpin twists reveal that no one is who they seem, people die, etc.
Florence slowly reveals herself to be quite the sociopath, and I like how author Alexandra Andrews plays with our sympathies, leans into ambiguity. The subversive and prescient The Talented Mr Ripley spawned this genre I think, and remains the gold standard. Identity theft in Patricia Highsmith’s novel (and the Anthony Minghella adaptation, which aged rather well) was less a plot device than a manifestation of internalized homophobia, self-loathing, queer loneliness, our masochistic obsession with the privileged class, and the fear of life’s meaninglessness.
Florence “tended to look down on books that owed their success to the dramatic machinations of plot.” With a wink, we’re warned to not be a snob like Florence. Thrillerholics will get a dopamine hit with this clever mystery, relishing every twist and turn. Snobs like Florence and I may have to write our own.
Who Is Maud Dixon? is published by Tinder Press