Killing Time in St. Cloud

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Desperate to borrow five thousand dollars to finance a questionable deal in Minneapolis, Nick seeks out an old flame, Elizabeth Carmody, triggering a complex series of interactions among the residents of this small, tightly knit community. Elizabeth is the daughter of the wealthiest man in town and the wife of Simon Carmody, a surgeon at the local hospital. Her loan to Nick provokes long-withheld resentments into action, overturning precariously balanced family relationships and pulling several innocent townspeople--most significantly Charlie Carmody, Simon’s seemingly good-for-nothing brother--into Nick’s eclipsing orbit.

As the suspense builds, murder (or some other terrible event) appears inevitable. The focus of the novel, however, is on character and motivation. The plot hinges on developments in these areas, as Nick’s presence in town brings entanglements and animosities which have simmered since adolescence to a boil in the present, where they finally explode in a terrifying climax.

A collaboration between two critically acclaimed novelists (who undertook this project together to assuage the loneliness of writing long fiction), KILLING TIME IN ST. CLOUD is written in alternating voices. This technique enables the authors to blend their different styles, to offer the reader multiple points of view, and to maintain excitement. Some of the characters, however, are almost stock figures, and even the main players lack a history that is psychologically deep enough to explain their present behavior. The reader is never with one character long enough to establish a clear focus and thus ends up suspecting everyone--which is perhaps the intent, though it borders on formula.

Despite some narrative disparity, KILLING TIME IN ST. CLOUD is grippingly written. The authors excel at detail and successfully capture the atmosphere of this rural quarry town, where everyone is “family” and even family is suspect. The book is a good read for a cold winter’s evening.