In the wake of his brother-in-law’s brutal and senseless murder, Owen Patterson takes it upon himself to extract a peculiar kind of justice.
The murderer, Henry Joseph Raven, is in prison, but it hardly seems punishment enough to Owen, who must live with the aftereffects of the crime—his new wife in mourning, in-laws obsessed with their lost son. So in a quest to “balance the scales of justice,” Owen begins to write letters to the murderer, using a female pseudonym. His plan is simple but unhinged: His “Lily Hazelton” will seduce Henry Raven, then break his heart.
When people ask me what it’s about, and I sense they’re looking for a one-sentence answer, I usually reply with something like, “It’s a darkly comic novel about a cockamamie revenge scheme.”
But it’s not really about revenge at all.
The revenge is a pretext for something far more complicated and problematic: Owen’s act of creation. From the moment he stumbles upon the idea for his scheme (he’s hit in the head by a Frisbee), Owen proceeds down a path of trial-and-error, of intuition and study, of memory and imagination in putting onto paper his made-up correspondent Lily Hazelton.
On his old Olivetti, Owen constructs Lily from imagined details, overheard anecdotes, docudrama plotlines, even the memory of his mother’s meatloaf. It’s not long before he discovers that if he really wants to bring Lily to life, he’s going to have to invest more of what Phillip Roth calls “the personal ingredient.” When he does, Lily transforms into an amalgam of his first love (cousin Eileen, a suicide), the traumas of his childhood, and the darkest corners of his psyche.
Sound like a novelist much?
In writing The Interloper I found myself shuttling constantly between imagination and memory. I put in a friend’s favorite joke. I reprinted poems by Whitman and Poe. I borrowed from things as mundane as my local grocery store and a license plate I’d seen twenty years before, and things as personal as an old inflatable penguin punching doll and my own half-brother’s murder.
Owen Patterson, in cobbling together what he can to seduce a reader with his words, is the mirror image of an author.
Except that he aims to destroy, whereas this author, at least, aims to delight.
Antoine Wilson is the author of The Interloper and the forthcoming Panorama City. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a contributing editor of A Public Space. He lives and surfs in Los Angeles.