In Sliding Past Vertical Laurie Boris has written a love story without romantic illusions, a character-driven novel with suspense that never flags.
Sarah is a hapless twenty-something so careless she accidentally burns down the print shop where she works and so naive she agrees to hold drugs for her musician boyfriend who deals on the side. One afternoon, she comes home to find her apartment trashed and her roommate’s parakeet dead. Terrified, Sarah turns to her old college sweetheart, Emerson, for help. She flees Boston for Albany and moves into the house where he lives. But it’s apparent her troubles will follow.
Although the no-good boyfriend lurks in the background, the story’s heart is the problematic relationship of Sarah and Emerson. She broke up with him, and he never completely got over the hurt. They have remained long-distance friends. He keeps his guard up with her. Sarah has qualms about reentering his life, but in this crisis she has nowhere else to turn. Emerson graduated a while ago, but he continues to live like a student, sharing the large house with several foreigners who have come to the United States to attend the university. One of them, kind and innocent Rashid, is his closest friend. The interplay between Rashid and Sarah adds another complication.
Sarah has flaws that are all too human. It irks her that Emerson makes money writing erotica for men’s magazines, and she detests the idea that the sex objects in his stories might be modeled after her. Yet she chooses men who exploit her sexually. The irony seems to elude her. In general, she feels guilty about her mistakes but has trouble taking responsibility for them. It’s as if she doesn’t know how and keeps struggling to learn.
The story ends in a catastrophe for which Sarah is somewhat responsible and – heartbreaking though it is – might be the lesson she needs.
Laurie Boris has crafted a compelling story without gimmickry or contrivance. Her characters seem as real as the people who live down the block. Her prose is graceful and transparent and never forced. The editing of this book exceeds the standards of large commercial presses.
In short, Sliding Past Vertical is not to be missed.