THE CHARACTERS: Marcia and Lucy are compelling portraits of two sisters clearly devoted to one another and yet at odds with each other. They are also described as opposites in both physical attractiveness and psychological make-up. Typically for Potts she describes these women with a huge dollop of irony. Lucy is the radiant beauty of the two but she's also socially awkward, emotionally stunted, and dangerously neurotic. Marcia, on the other hand, is darkly attractive, cynical, outspoken and a bit too protective of her younger sister. Since their youth the two have engaged in a game of eavesdropping that has made them privy to their father's secrets. An architectural anomaly in the basement, situated directly below his doctor's office, has allowed the sisters to listen in on conversations. They have continued to do this into adulthood. Their surreptitious behavior will recur throughout the novel and have dire consequences for both. What they never realize is that other people who live and work in the house have also discovered this ideal place to listen in on conversations while never being seen.
Most interesting about this book is that there does not seem to be a real protagonist the reader can root for while antagonists are plentiful. Lucy and Marcia may be presented as the central characters but neither is truly likeable or sympathetic. In effect they are a duo of anti-heroines similar to the men one finds in a Patricia Highsmith novel. While there may be some elements of pathos about Lucy's fragile mental state one can never truly side with her plight. Marcia comes across as the more wily of the sisters and yet she too will be revealed to be as sinister as the two men the women find themselves at the mercy of over the course of the novel.
|Original painting for the ACE G-541 reprint|
In contrast to Hansen there is C. Gordon ("Call me Chuck. Everybody else does.") Llewellyn, a portrait photographer, interested in Pam the nurse's personal belongings left behind in her office. Chuck is is first described as a "bouncy, phoney guy, trying to seem younger than he was." He's also interested in leasing out Dr. Knapp's office if he can successfully cajole and manipulate the sisters into meeting his demands. But does he have an ulterior motive? When he finds Pam's diary why does he refuse to allow the sisters to read what's written inside? His sporting manner and affable charm mask a darker core and hidden motives. Chuck's presence sets Lucy on edge and sends her easily triggered morbid imagination into a frenzy of paranoid fantasies. Marcia is leery of Chuck, but she treats him with kid gloves.
Lucy's unfortunate obsession with the disposal of an old gas heater is not easily forgotten by Hansen who was entrusted to get rid of it quickly after the two deaths. She alternates between fretting about what Hansen knows and obsessing about where Chuck has hidden Pam's diary. Either man might be able to expose the failed plot to do in her father. Growing suspicions of foul play surrounding the car accident lead to a battle of wits between the two men and two women as they attempt to outguess and out maneuver one another. And it won't end well for anyone.
The cast is rounded out by two quirky, gossipy neighbors who rent rooms on the second floor of the house. Each woman is a pet owner and they frequently are seen trotting out with their dogs, one of which is dressed in outfits that match its owner. Mrs. Sully and Mrs. Travers (aka "La Traviata" so dubbed for her large physique and grandiose manner) are clearly objects of ridicule, but also exist oddly as the two voices of reason in this household of fear, paranoia and scheming. Ironically, as grotesque and foolish as they are painted the two neighbors appear to be the only characters who see things clearly yet as loudly as they speak no one will pay them any attention.
INNOVATIONS: Potts' ingenuity lies in the exploration of evil deeds not carried out and the festering remains of criminality that never come to fruition. To say that the novel is merely about the guilty consciences of these two sisters is to undermine its complexity. Take for example, the scene where Marcia executes a caterpillar by whacking it in two with a trowel:
Absently she scuffed some crumbs of dirt over the caterpillar. One of God's creatures. All right; but so were roses, and you had to make a choice. You had to accept the fact that some of God's creatures were no good. The law of rose-preservation, as basic as the law of self preservation.The ease with which Marcia so callously and brutally severs the bug in two is mentioned repeatedly after this scene. Potts' has created that resounding image as a reminder of how that evil wish has corrupted Marcia, how strong that desire to carry out violence is not only much easier for her but almost necessary.
"Yeah, but if Lucy planned it... It must do something to you, to plan a thing like that. You know what I mean? It's like you've crossed a line or something, and you can't ever get back to what you were before."
After finding a photo of Dr. Knapp and Pam: "Who's the guy?" Mr. Llewellyn asked, and she could not speak. She did not have to; she had one of those expressive faces, and that was Mr. Llewellyn's business, noticing faces.
Fear. How strange to live with it, get used to it, even thrive on it. It was like a fever running in her, sharpening her perceptions and quickening her to an abnormal animation. How strange, how different from other fears. [...] Instead of the old abject helplessness, she had a feeling of zest, sometimes even of power.
EASY TO FIND? This one looks good. Published in both the UK and the US The Evil Wish was also reprinted in the US twice in two different paperback editions. My search of the most popular bookselling sites turned up a little under 20 copies of the book in various editions. Of all of these versions the most common copies found are in the Ace Books (G-541) paperback, most of them reasonably priced. Happy hunting!