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In the Cut

Susanna Moore

Plume/Penguin Putnam

US Paperback

ISBN: 0-452-28129-6

Publication Date: December, 1999

(US Hardcover first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1995)

180 Pages: $12.95

Date Reviewed: February, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004



Mystery, Horror

For many excellent books, it is often not the tale that is unique, but the telling. A talented, original writer takes an oft-told story and recasts it into something brilliant, something new, and something nearly unrecognizable. 'In the Cut' is, crassly described, a serial killer story, but one unlike any other serial killer story you've ever read. Moore's novel is more aptly described as a work of finely tuned literary eroticism that happens to turn around serial killings. And it is a book for grown-ups.

Moore writes her first-person narrative about a thirty-four year old, single woman, living on Washington Square in New York, who teaches creative writing by day and researches and writes on language, particularly street slang, by night. Street slang is always about sex, always about race and often about violence. So is 'In the Cut'.

Moore weaves the accidental observation of an oral sex act between a tattooed man and a red-headed female, the brutal killing and dismemberment of a neighborhood woman, and the precinct police who investigate the crime into an erotic, cruel, and obsessive narrative of amazing power with a truly shocking ending. She clearly pushes the boundaries of taste and tolerance, deliberately opting to go too far, to probe uncomfortable territory, to tell her tale. In less capable hands, this story would be simply raunchy and lurid, a sickening retelling of the serial killer tale from the victim's viewpoint. Moore makes it an honest, sexy, sad, occasionally witty and utterly believable story of an overly courageous, bohemian woman in our dangerous contemporary world. Explicit eroticism is rarely found in tales of suspense, probably because eroticism is so difficult to write well. Moore manages to weave eroticism and suspense together so finely that they meld indivisibly and in her writing does justice to both.

Moore is an honest and courageous writer, as comfortable with graphic sexuality as she is with linguistic musings, poetry, street slang and the requirements of plot. Her prose is pointed, her language a sword wielded both to amuse and to repulse. While Moore clearly pushes the edges of acceptability, she also knows where to stop - just short of disgusting, and a step shy of nauseating. She builds dread, throws light onto obsessive emotions, bares loneliness, and exposes cold cruelty with language that is smooth, fluid and pure. 'In the Cut' would carry emotional weight solely because of the events of the story; it cuts cleanly to the bone solely because of Moore's language.

'In the Cut' opens with musings on the difficulty of understanding the concept of irony. It closes with a cruel, illustrative example of exactly that. Smoothly melding language, erotica and murder, Moore takes the reader full circle, exactly as she had planned from the outset. 'In the Cut' is not a book for readers who are uncomfortable with frank and explicit sex or for those who recoil at vividly portrayed violence. But it is a remarkable book, one well worth reading, that takes the suspense genre on a new and most fascinating, trajectory.