The Hesitation Cut is my first experience with Canadian writer Giles Blunt, who is perhaps most famous for his crime novels which feature Detective John Cardinal. (I have watched a couple of those novels brought to the small screen and have found them super intense; I can only imagine what the reading experience would be like.)
In this standalone, 30-year-old Brother William is living the cloistered life of a monk in Rochester, upstate New York. He’s been at Our Lady Of Peace for ten years, living a life punctuated by ritual. One of William’s jobs is to work in the monastery’s library and it is there he meets Lauren, a writer who has come to do research on Peter Abelard, the famous philosopher from 12th century France, who had an ill-fated relationship with his student, Heloise.
Brother William is almost immediately smitten with Lauren. When he arrives at the library “it was like coming upon a small animal in the forest.” There is something about Lauren that draws William, like the moon pulls the water (if I can make such a clumsy comparison). He is helpless against its pull and when he notices “a scar across her wrist”, he’s done for. Lauren becomes William’s next calling. He decides she’s in trouble and he can save her.
So, he gives up his life, takes back his name (Peter, surely no coincidence) and heads to New York City. A lot of pieces click into place (his estranged brother has saved his share of the family estate, so suddenly a former monk without worldly possessions has disposable cash), he gets a job, and relatively easily in a city the size of NY, tracks Lauren down. Although I am not sure I bought it, there’s an empty basement studio in the very same building where Lauren lives, and so Peter moves in and befriends her.
The thing about these two characters is that neither of them are even remotely likeable. While Peter pretends to be altruistic, Lauren makes no effort to hide the fact that she is damaged goods; in fact, in some ways, she seems to enjoy the wallowing. To be fair, she tries to warn Peter:
”Peter, I have my work and nothing else. Nothing. I’m not what you think, or need, or want. I’m just a selfish bitch, you see.”
Peter almost takes this as a personal challenge. Lauren WILL love him.
Then, along comes Mick, Lauren’s former lover. He’s the proverbial bad boy, but he’s actually one of the most likeable characters in the whole book. His arrival on the scene throws Peter into a tailspin.
The Hesitation Cut was easy to read. I couldn’t put it down. Did I buy all the pieces chinking together? No. Did it matter? Probably not. Blunt has constructed a well-made play, peopled with mostly despicable characters. Whether you care about their fates won’t actually impact your enjoyment of their sad journeys.