I’m going to admit to a certain fascination with twins, and this has resulted in multiple viewings of films such as Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers, Bette Davis in A Stolen Life and Dead Ringer, and how can I forget one of my all-time favourites, the very creepy David Cronenberg film Dead Ringers. Dead Ringers is based on the true story of twin brothers Stewart and Cyril Marcus, and in the film version, the twins, extremely successful gynecologists both become involved with the same woman. And this leads me to The Investigation of Ariel Warning by Robert Kalich–a book written by an identical twin about identical twins who fall for the same femme fatale.
Adam and his identical twin brother, David Remler place an ad in The New York Times, and the plan is that they will share the services of an experienced screenplay writer–David needs an assistant and Adam hopes for a film treatment of his novel Confessions. This is all established on page one–along with the very confident applicant who begins, via e-mail, by describing her “thick, corn-colored hair” and her “exceptionally long legs.” That would be a deal breaker for me, but Adam and David plunge ahead and foolishly invite the applicant, Ariel Warning, into their lives initially for an interview. Of course, their collective decision to interview Ariel–along with an admission that they’re “intrigued” by her may have a great deal to do with the fact that they are both lonely, single vulnerable men. Adam, wallowing in self-pity, is still trying to get over the break-up of his long-term relationship, and David’s wife was killed a few years previously in a horse riding accident.
From the moment Ariel arrives for the interview, she is in control of the situation. There’s really no question of her being an ‘applicant’–instead it’s as though she’s establishing the perimeters of this three-cornered relationship, and this initial foray sets the stage for the dynamics of the relationship between Ariel, Adam, and David. She claims to be an expert on twins–the Remlers in particular:
“When I was at Kansas, I even did a term paper on you and Adam. comparing your novels. my professor balked. She said you two weren’t in the literary canon as of yet. But I insisted. I think what hit home was when I told her you were the only twins in literary history that are published novelists. That piqued my professor’s interest. Mine too.” Ariel said, smiling. “And I did another paper comparing your twin relationship with other identicals. I brought both papers with me,” she said, reaching for her shoulder bag. “They’re here somewhere,” and before a millisecond had passed, she was rummaging through her bag, expounding on the papers. “The truth is, I didn’t want to write a treatise dealing with how identicals share the same unconscious. That they know everything about each other from the time of their birth. Even before. But I believe it is like that. It is with you two, isn’t it? I mean the two of you know things about the other half that no one else could possibly know. Yet, still, for your entire lives both of you have felt incomplete. That’s true, isn’t it?” she asked, peering intently at us.
After this bizarre interview, Ariel gets the job. I was a bit surprised by this development as it seemed quite clear that Ariel was trouble–at best a twin groupie/fetishist with a penchant for BS–at worst a total psycho. I suppose the fact that she got the job–no questions asked–gave me the warning that she was being hired for her physical attributes rather than a proven, traceable resume. So with that in mind, it came as no surprise to find Ariel very quickly established as David’s girlfriend.
Adam, the book’s narrator, soon has cause to question the identity of Ariel Warning. A quick background check reveals that no such person exists. By this point, she’s elbowed her way into David and Adam’s lives, burrows in deep, and then she’s not so easy to get rid of. But when Ariel begins exhibiting some bizarre, violent behaviour, and makes some strange demands, bad things start happening to the people in the twins’ lives. Adam is forced to investigate even at the cost of losing his relationship with his brother.
The Investigation of Ariel Warning, an entertaining literary Chinese puzzle, is full of twists and turns, allusions to Shakespeare and replete with facts about twins. Primarily a mystery, the book also explores the emotional connections between twins and doesn’t quite fit neatly into any genre. The book also includes echoes of the highly controversial Peter Greenaway film A Zed and Two Noughts primarily through the Siamese twins, Bart and Albert Parker, former admirers of Ariel who now share a prostitute, so fans of Greenaway (me) should appreciate the nuances of this unusual, complex plot. While I struggled somewhat with Adam and David’s gullibility and periodic passivity when faced with Ariel’s atrocious behaviour, I throughly enjoyed the character of Margot Korman–a “creepy” woman according to David, but his track record when it comes to trusting people isn’t exactly reliable. Margot, who insists on sharing the salacious details of her sex life at the most inappropriate moment, joins forces with Adam to discover the truth about Ariel.