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Book Review: ‘My Murder,’ by Katie Williams

Aug 26, 2023Aug 26, 2023


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In the novel "My Murder," the victim of a serial killer finds that her second chance at existence comes with profound dilemmas.

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By Dan Chaon

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MY MURDER, by Katie Williams

Katie Williams's whip-smart, twisty new novel has an arresting premise: Five women, all victims of the same serial killer, are brought back from the dead — or rather, the murdered women are cloned by a shady government agency. These clones are returned to their grieving families and the lives that had been stolen from them, the memories and feelings and personalities of their original selves still intact for the most part.

This would seem to be a miraculous second chance, to sort of cheat death, but for our narrator, Louise — a young wife and mother, and the serial killer Edward Early's final victim — there's also a lingering unease. She doesn't remember the last few days of her life, or the moment of her death, and she's haunted by these gaps; she repeatedly asks her doting husband, Silas, to walk her through his own memories of the day of her murder.

There's also the fact that her daughter, now 9 months old, doesn't quite bond with her newly reborn mother. She screams when Louise tries to hold her, perhaps sensing that this isn't the body that birthed her. As for Louise, her freshly cloned skin no longer bears the scar from her cesarean section.

Even more troubling are the vague memories Louise does have of the weeks before her murder. She’d been depressed and ambivalent about her life — about her marriage, about motherhood — and when Clone Louise comes home from the hospital, she finds a duffel bag that Original Louise had packed and hidden in the closet. Her old self had been considering abandoning her husband and child, running away from the traditional suburban family role she’d found herself locked into.

Williams performs a number of clever tricks with the narration, and not least of these is that sad-sack Louise is a consistently winning perspective. In the beginning, the writing has a comic pizazz — you can imagine Natasha Lyonne reading the audiobook — but it grows deeper, darker and more melancholy as the book goes on, the self-possessed wisecracking revealing itself, as it often does, as the defense mechanism of a lonely and disconnected soul.

The subtle science-fiction elements only serve to deepen this sense of alienation. Williams's near-future world takes familiar technology and makes it even more pervasive and isolating. People ride around in driverless cars and put on virtual-reality headsets to relax in bucolic alternate universes. Louise works at a company that sells therapeutic hugs in a virtual space called the Room; clients meet her avatar in her "work skin, the comforting composite, the well-loved armchair of a woman."

In custody, the serial killer is given empathy-enhancing drugs that serve as a form of torture, and a popular video game allows players to experience the various Edward Early murders from the perspective of the victim, or the killer. There's an eerie sense that bodies have become merely exchangeable containers — commodities. It seems notable that Louise is not just a clone, it turns out, but the clone of a baby born via IVF, who was carried in the womb of a friend of her two fathers who was not the egg donor.

With this and her previous novel, "Tell the Machine Goodnight," Williams seems to be spearheading a fruitful new branch of speculative fiction. Call it Domestic Science Fiction — somewhere between George Saunders's biting social satire and Anne Tyler's tender concern for character and consequence.

"My Murder" is one of those rare emotionally intelligent books that are also fun reads, and it even manages to perform two or three plot turns that are so masterly that they would make Ira Levin blush. You can read the ending as happy — or as existential horror, as I do — but in any case it's a book that's going to keep readers turning pages late into the night.

Dan Chaon is the author of seven works of fiction, most recently the novel "Sleepwalk," now in paperback.

MY MURDER | By Katie Williams | 294 pp. | Riverhead Books | $27


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