“You don’t erase yourself at every stage of life. Human personalities develop in layers, one on top of the other. Scratch one layer, you can see what’s below.”
In George Harrar’s novel, Reunion at Red Paint Bay, when Simon Howe, owner and editor of the only newspaper in the small town of Red Paint, Maine begins receiving anonymous postcards that bear cryptic messages, he doesn’t take it too seriously. At first he thinks the postcards might be a mistake, but then as the cards continue to arrive, Simon’s therapist wife, Amy senses danger while Simon is merely amused. He can’t imagine that he’s “somehow fallen into a cliché mystery novel.” After all nothing ever happens in Red Paint, a small picturesque town, 4 miles by 3 miles with a population at just over 7,000 people–a place that calls itself “the friendliest town in Maine.” Everyone seems to know one another, and this is the sort of town where people don’t worry about locking their front doors. The last murder took place twenty years before, and there are times when Simon finds it difficult to drum up enough newsworthy stories to fill the paper. This is a town where stories about someone losing a toe and a sighting of the Virgin Mary in a pile of sand make the front page.
As the cards continue to arrive, it becomes increasingly obvious that the sender has an agenda which involves Simon. Amy, who works with the female survivors of rape, theorizes that whoever is sending the cards is out for revenge. The repetitive nature of the cards appears to have a payoff for the sender:
Revenge is often elaborate. That’s part of its appeal. You get to enjoy it over and over again as you plan it.
At first Simon can’t imagine himself as the object of revenge, but over time, he mentally lists all those who he may have offended over the years, and to his surprise, they are quite a few candidates who might wish him harm. As Simon and Amy feel a growing threat, we see fragmented glimpses of the man who has sent the postcards. He becomes bolder and bolder as he circles Simon, awaiting the perfect moment. Meanwhile as all of this goes on, the town readies itself for a 25 year high school reunion….
Reunion at Red Paint places us immediately in the lives of Simon and Amy Howe. These are people who’ve chosen small town life for a reason, and Red Paint is Simon’s hometown, a place he’s returned to even though he may have given up the chances of a better career. Simon is a wonderful husband and father, but is he all that he seems to be? Shortly after the novel opens, there’s a marvellous scene as husband and wife order a meal for their son at the drive-in window at Burger World. This seemingly simple scene sets the stage to show a division–a divide of communication and true thought processes, for while Amy chides her husband for not being friendly enough with the waitress, Simon has a sneaking desire to go check out the face and the body behind the attractive voice. This scene sets up the novel’s underlying theme: how well do we really know anyone?
Although the novel may appear to be a stalker thriller, and it certainly starts as that, this is not an adequate description. Yes, there are moments of gripping intensity, but in the final analysis, the novel turns in a much more thoughtful, psychological direction and morphs into something unexpected and even creepier as we are faced with some big questions about guilt, remorse and atonement. While the meshing of these two elements: thriller and drama are not always successful, nonetheless, the story generates a lot of issues for discussion regarding the chilling ability to create stories and versions of our lives that in the telling become more acceptable and fit the version of the person we’d like to be. I’d recommend this novel to people who enjoy the novels of Ruth Rendell.