The Fainting Room

The Fainting Room
The Fainting Room, A Novel
Ig Publishing, 2013

“A masterful exploration of longing and its consequences… spellbinding insights into the complexity of desire.”

—Publishers Weekly

“A deliciously creepy and intense story.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Part detective story, part mystery, Strong’s second novel (after Burning the Sea) delivers complex, entertaining characters and will attract readers who enjoy genre-blending, cutting-edge fiction.”
—Library Journal

“Laced with sex and menace, carried along by Strong’s hypnotic prose, The Fainting Room takes the genre of suburban drama and turns it inside out. Tom Perotta would be proud. So might David Lynch.”
Brian Francis Slattery, author of Lost Everything

“Part noir, part romance, and part three-ring circus, The Fainting Room is filled with secrets: secret lives, secret desires, even secret skin. Like a high wire act, Strong keeps us on the edge of our seats, turning pages as quickly as we can and rooting for these three damaged, complicated, wonderful characters to succeed.”
Diana Wagman, author of The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets

“In a masterful exploration of longing and its consequences, Strong throws a teenager who craves attention, an architect in crisis, and a beautiful newlywed into an emotionally explosive triangle. Sixteen-year-old Ingrid is suspended from her boarding school and taken in by privileged Bostonian Ray Shepard and his troubled wife Evelyn. Evelyn grew up in a traveling circus with high-wire parents and married an abusive sword-swallower who later died. Ray offers the stability Evelyn has fantasized about all her life, but they’re both frustrated by the difficulty she has with adjusting to his uptight lifestyle. Along with the tattoos that cover most of her body, Evelyn hides her background from Ray’s friends and colleagues and has no job or friends of her own. Precocious, manipulative newcomer Ingrid soon has both Shepherds confiding in her. A thin mystery thread serves two entwined purposes in Strong’s second novel (after Burning the Sea): the unraveling of Evelyn’s secrets, and the evolution of Ingrid’s noir-inspired alter ego. The magic, however, doesn’t lie in the past, where the narrative veers dangerously close to melodrama, but in the present, with Strong’s spellbinding insights into the complexity of desire.”
—Publishers Weekly

Ray Shepard is a wealthy architect who has mystified his friends by marrying Evelyn, a woman who works at a nail salon. Evelyn, in turn, hides a secret past about her former life in a circus, her ex-husband’s mysterious death, and the colorful tattoos she carefully conceals under her clothes. When Evelyn starts to cave under the pressure of living in Ray’s rarified world, she suggests they take in Ingrid, a sixteen-year-old girl with blue hair, a pet iguana, and no place to stay for the summer. As Evelyn and Ray both make her their confidante, drawing her into the heart of what threatens their marriage, Ingrid increasingly adopts the noir alter ego of “Detective Slade”—fedora and all—in order to solve the mysteries that threaten to engulf all three characters.

It was just after midnight and the last guests had gone home. Ray Shepard sat at his desk in the upstairs study, fingers pressed against his forehead. There was a dull throbbing there, a headache brought on by the combination of too much wine at the party and his wife’s bizarre exit afterwards. He took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. One window was open, and through it came the sound of the spring peepers. Were they always this noisy? The sound was painfully high—sharp, almost. Ray rubbed his forehead, and this was what he knew: one minute he was sitting at his desk, wincing at the decibel level of frogs, and the next second he was—where?

His eyes were closed. He opened them; saw that his head was pressed against the knees of his khakis. His arms gripped his shins. The plane crash position, he thought, and realized there had been some sort of crash: his ears were full of a terrible splintering sound that had just ended. He lifted his head a few inches. Across the room, the window had been smashed. The picture window, his beautiful, curved, 1864 Queen Anne picture window. Long shards of glass lay on the floor directly beneath the sill; smaller pieces had flown farther. There was glass on the desk in front of him, glass on his papers, and one large shard that jutted out from the well of typewriter keys like a small transparent iceberg.

His Tiffany desk lamp had flown halfway across the room and landed on the rug; its pearly glass shade now hung from the bronze armature in pieces. And beside the smashed lamp lay a smooth gray rock the size of his fist. The rock looked familiar, though he could not think why. He shook his head and stood up, then had to hold onto the desk while his vision darkened, cleared again.

Something was tickling his cheek—he brushed at his face and his palm became warm and sticky. The sight of so much blood on his hand sent a surge of adrenaline through him that cleared his mind: was whoever threw the rock going to break in? He stuck his head out the window and listened. A car—was that Evelyn, changing her mind and coming back? Or was it someone leaving? He went across the hall to the bedroom and looked out the window. The driveway was empty. Wherever his wife was, it was not here.