THE RUB is the convoluted and torrid story of a strange love quadrangle that forms between two married couples. But it’s more complicated than even that: both these married couples had daughters who formed a suicide pact together, killing one of them. But it’s even more complicated than that: in fact, the surviving girl, Callie, has some dark secrets of her own. Meanwhile, her mother, Marilyn, has been messing around with other men on the side, including Dan, the father of Marin, the girl who did not survive. And her father, Cliff, decides to get some revenge by trying to seduce Dan’s wife, Chelle.
THE RUB’s network of tragedy and human failings is like a fractal, revealing ever more complexity as things progress. The characters’ neuroses and sexualities are so inextricably linked, such as Callie’s father Cliff’s simultaneous shame and arousal at the thought of his wife cheating on him, and Callie’s association of sexuality with her dead friend Marin. It presents very deep and well-rounded characters, like the Chelle, who, due to her alcoholism, ranges from completely sympathetic to maniacal, slut-shaming her daughter and then blaming her for her own suicide. This is a book that doesn’t offer a lot of easy answers: it burdens its characters with heavy guilt, and never absolves them entirely, forcing them to work through it on their own.
The very ending, however, does come off as sort of a cop-out, but it does at least fit with the characters, and to some extent, the themes of the book. The dialogue, however, can sometimes be kind of transparent and clunky: “’But I know that you’re my friend and if anything, you can help me, ya know, get there—’ ‘I’m a friend. Great, a friend. And while we’re at it, I don’t do therapy.’” It’s a minor point, really: most of the book is well written, even if these bits of dialogue can occasionally stick out.
THE RUB is such an intense and sordid book, and yet it retains something so humane at its center – it’s almost too humane, really, but after such bleakness, it’s easy to understand why some optimism might not be a bad thing.
Reviewed by Charles Baker for IndieReader.com