Reviewed by Nick Rees Gardner
A powerful and unexpected novel about the ties that bind us to family and the lies we weave to make ourselves feel safe
At the intersection of realist literary fiction, surrealism, horror, and crime. Allardice’s Weft is not afraid to stretch the reader’s imagination. The novel explores the life of Bridget, a con artist on the road with her son, Jake, staying in cheap hotels and wandering the malls of middle America in search of overconfident marks.
About halfway through the book, the story takes a turn from predominantly realistic events to more surreal and creepy imagery, exposing Bridget’s past while also forcing her to question her present situation. But even before this shift, Allardice pushes the reader into slightly-off spaces, testing the elasticity of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Ultimately, Allardice’s lyrical prose paired with gripping tension and suspense make Weft a strange experience, but also a riveting one.
The world at the beginning of Weft is, in many ways, ideal, but shadows lurk beneath the nostalgic ‘90s surface. Bridget and Jake scout for their marks in mall food courts or at festivals where wealthy people stomp grapes to make wine. They impersonate casting directors, hoping to fool young boys (and by extension, their parents) into believing they could be the next Anakin Skywalker in the rumored forthcoming Star Wars prequels. Happy families live comfortably, splurging on things they don’t need and sending large checks in response to Bridget’s scam while this mother and her recently emancipated son live in the squalor of cheap motels, separated from the rest of their kin, always on the run.
The mall, the festival, and even the mansions Bridget talks her way into on the pretense of shooting an audition tape, all feature an idealistic brand of capitalism. One house contains a maze of living rooms and another a dumbwaiter. Her marks are filled with the hope and confidence that money can buy; the same hope and confidence that Bridget both lacks herself and tries to take advantage of in others. Bridget doesn’t buy into the happy-go-lucky attitude of the ideal world that Allardice paints around her, but she pretends to. It’s not until a con goes awry and she finds herself on Halloween in a mansion-turned-haunted-house that she is forced to come to terms with her own facade.
Allardice navigates between the sentimentalized 1997 backdrop and Bridget’s inner life with precision and dexterity, creating an overarching tension from page one. This tension builds as the world around Bridget slips into the surreal, as it becomes more threatening and more at-odds with the expected.
According to story scientist Dr. Angus Fletcher, a stretch such as this is an “invention at the root of all literary wonder: the marvel that comes from stretching a regular object into a metaphor.” The result of this stretch, Fletcher says, “is that we quite literally feel the borders of our self dissolving, even to the point of ‘self-annihilation.’” When Bridget finds herself in the mansion-turned-haunted-house, the confident self that she once wore begins to crumble. As Allardice shifts into more slipstream and imagistic representations of reality, the reader experiences this confusion, this crumbling along with Bridget. The strange world of the haunted house becomes more real than the feel of the physical book in the reader’s hands or the chair on which they sit. It is the effect of this stretch, this nudging to the brink of reality without shoving the reader over the edge, that makes Weft especially effective, the reader gnawing their nails until the final page.
While it’s difficult to define Weft’s genre, Allardice has created a work that is available to a variety of audiences from poetic-minded academics to horror fans and even the casual reader interested in opening up their literary world. Both strange and thrilling, Weft is a singular novel: beautiful, compelling, a pleasure.
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