#BookReview Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson

Mouth To MouthAbout the Book

A struggling author is stuck at the airport, his flight endlessly delayed. As he stares at the departure board and browses the shops, he bumps into a former classmate of his, Jeff, who is waiting for the same flight. The charismatic Jeff invites the narrator to drinks in the First Class lounge, and there, swearing him to secrecy, begins telling him the fascinating and disturbing story of his life, starting with a pivotal incident from his youth.

Alone on the beach, he noticed a man drowning in the rough surf, his fate resting in Jeff’s hands. Overwhelmed but ultimately determined to help, Jeff rescued and resuscitated the unconscious man. Unexpectedly traumatized by the event, Jeff develops a fixation on the man he saved, sure that they are now inextricably linked. Upon discovering that the man, Francis, is a renowned art dealer, Jeff finds a job at his gallery in hopes of connecting with Francis and processing the event. Even though Francis seems to have no recollection of the incident, he takes Jeff under his wing, and Jeff becomes increasingly involved in Francis’s life, dating his daughter and attending important art world parties. As the two grow closer, Jeff notices some of Francis’s more unsavoury characteristics – his tendency to cheat artists and carry on affairs – but, convinced that their encounter on the beach is fated, brushes his concerns aside and continues to pursue a deeper connection with Francis, even as the nature of their relationship grows darker…

Format: Hardback (192 pages)      Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication date: 3rd March 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery

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My Review

My first thought is that I’m not sure the long blurb does the book any favours – personally, I would have limited it to the first paragraph – as it discloses quite a lot of what happens although, admittedly, not the final climactic reveal. Having said that this is a novel which exudes a pervading air of menace and in which the author skilfully ratchets up the tension bit by bit.

Jeff’s perhaps natural desire to find out more about the man whose life he saved becomes more than mere curiosity but something bordering on obsession. Jeff finds himself drawn closer and closer to Francis Arsenault, an art dealer with a supposed remarkable ‘eye’ for what will sell, a skill that doesn’t seem to extend to recognising the man who saved his life.  However, as Jeff discovers, Francis is a master in the art of maintaining a double life (Francis Arsenault isn’t even his real name) and of using others for his own ends. The world of art dealing thus makes the ideal environment for him to inhabit. ‘The only reason Francis is in this business is because it’s the most easily manipulated market in the world, and he’s a master manipulator.’

The book is in essence about consequences as Jeff finds himself carried along by the train of events, events in a way he enabled by saving Francis’s life. As he confides, ‘I wanted him to be good, though, I wanted to feel that I had done a good thing not only for him but for all the people he came in contact with.’ As Jeff’s life becomes more closely intertwined with Francis’s through his relationship with Francis’s daughter, Chloe, he finds his loyalties tested and begins to wonder just what he unleashed when he saved Francis’s life. What if Francis is far from good? Is Jeff then implicated in Francis’s deceit?

But, of course, we only have Jeff’s word for all of this. The narrator begins to wonder about Jeff’s motivation for telling him the story. ‘Was it excavation, though, Jeff getting everything off his chest? Or was he painting for me a kind of self-portrait? And what is a self-portrait if not self-serving?’

Mouth to Mouth is a compulsively readable, deliciously disquieting little novel with a sting in its tail.

I received a review copy courtesy of Atlantic Books via Readers First.

In three words: Taut, compelling, dark

Try something similarThe Executioner Weeps by Frédéric Dard

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Antoine WilsonAbout the Author

Antoine Wilson is the author of the novels Panorama City and The Interloper. His work has appeared in the Paris Review, StoryQuarterly, Best New American Voices and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications, and h is a contributing editor for A Public Space.  A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin, he lives with his family in Los Angeles.

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