A long ago summer idyll at a manor-turned-commune ended in tragedy, and the recent discovery of the bones of a woman and a baby threaten the secrets carefully guarded by the young man who inherited the home.
The mystery itself is no great shakes, but Vine has populated her novel with some of her most memorable characters. A particular standout is Shiva, an Indian man married to a half-Indian, half-German woman who insists on acting as “Indian” as she can. She wears a sari or a salwar kameez, takes Bengali lessons, and cooks traditional dishes like daal, in spite of the fact that Shiva, the child of immigrants, yearns for the assimilation that his light-haired, light-skinned wife could have so easily. I also found Rufus fascinating, a calculating gynecologist who plays hide and seek with his cocktails out of a bizarre desire to keep a secret from his wife Marigold, who turns the tables on him by being incurious to the point of eliciting suspicion that she might have secrets of her own.
I wanted much, much more from the wild days of Ecalpemos. There’s something boring about their “commune,” almost as though they were all, in the end, too prudish to let things get too wild. And I suppose this is part of Vine’s design; certainly she hasn’t shied away from revelry in the past, and even staid Ecalpemos has its share of perverse behaviors. She seems to imply that ultimately all of our tries at transgression are just attempts to forestall the inevitable, that our deepest, darkest desires are so bourgeois as to be frightening to us. The characters in A Fatal Inversion are given freedom to do whatever they please, and what they please is to settle down and embark upon careers and just plain grow up. Their blindness to their own folly is far more fascinating than the mechanics of the crime Vine has constructed to support them.