My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jenny Rowan lives an unassuming life in the DC Metro area. She works as an editor at the local news station, helps the homeless in her neighborhood with the occasional box of food, & keeps a low profile as a means of surviving in a chaotic, panic-driven world. Her quiet routine changes once a detective enters her life, asking her to help counsel a girl found in traumatizing circumstances–circumstances not unlike ones Jenny experienced long ago. Sallis’s novella follows Jenny as she weaves together lives of the people she encounters before moving on to an unknown future.
I’ve only read 3 of Sallis’s books so far, not including this one, & while they all have different stories & characters, certain themes echo loudly across his fiction works due to his restrained style. Jenny could easily be a variant of the mysterious female blogger from The Killer Is Dying, someone who has a coherent & redemptive outlook on the world created from fragments of positive encounters or hopeful moments. (Almost the antithesis of something like Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio.”) In a way, Others is sort of Sallis talking about a philosophy or perspective necessary for writing or creativity. In short, this book came to me at the right time, especially since I had some a little Sallis previously. I could easily see myself reading this & thinking Jenny was too pure or one-dimensional for the world around her.
I enjoyed this small book & am curious why Sallis picked the DC area. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too much Pelecanos, but the city does not seem very distinct in the story, other than allowing Jenny a plot-convenient proximity to some powerful people. The idea that there are small, yet important lives taking place amid the hubbub of the Beltway is interesting & does share a concern with writers like Pelecanos or Lippman. Or perhaps Sallis is paying homage to a kind of East Coast noir influence that would compliment his usual West Coast interest. In any case, Others is a compact, curious book but perhaps not for those who are just beginning to explore Sallis’s work.