(posted Thu May 12, 2022 02:43PM )
Book Review: FOUR OF CLUBS, another memorable novel by David Downie
Three adolescent boys, childhood friends, meet a beguiling half-Persian girl, fourteen years old but fully adult in matters of sex. Over forty years the inevitable tensions boil over. The result: murder. More than one.
Growing up in San Francisco, the boys came from very different economic backgrounds, ranging from the rich one at the top of the hill to his poor fraternal twin, adopted by different parents, at the bottom.
In the middle is Ed Dobbs, retired psychologist and failed medical student, who narrates the story from the vantage point of the special ledge at 10,000 feet, overlooking the High Sierra ski slopes where they all work after college.
The girl is Serena Swallow, exiled to California for an abortion, which will not be her last. There are hints of abuse and scars of past trauma.
She stays with neighbors of the narrator, who of course falls in love with her but without the sexual charge of his friends. The two other boys, equally smitten, worm into the relationship. The stolid Ed Dobbs, in her account the one she loves best, is in fact the only one of the boys not sleeping with her.
The Four of Clubs of the title refers back to the playing card each of the friends carried in memory of the Four. After the first death, they return to the stone pyramid to mourn the first victim by burning their cards. Later, they fold them into small paper airplanes and launch them into the void below, foreshadowing more of the story.
Four of Clubs is a subtle novel, written by an author deeply familiar with the area. His previous California novel, The Gardener of Eden, was also a story of depth. Both benefit from being read twice: Once for the pure pleasure of the story, again for the deeper story and relationships.
He has been a recognized and acclaimed writer for years. You can see all of his books here.
Downie was born in San Francisco to an American father and Italian mother, can claim both English and Italian as native languages, and lives with his wife, the photographer Alison Harris, in Paris and Italy, near Genoa.
Before he turned to novels he explored Paris deeply in his nonfiction. My favorite of his books about Paris is Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light, which I take out before our trips to Paris, which were annual affairs before covid.