by Peter Moore Smith

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Psychotherapist Katherine DeQuincy is torn between two brothers: handsome, successful Eric Airie and Pilot, her haunted, schizophrenic patient. Especially when Pilot begins telling her secrets only he knows and only he can share..."


Allowing herself to fall in love with Eric and trying to save Pilot, Katherine grapples with the mystery the


Psychotherapist Katherine DeQuincy is torn between two brothers: handsome, successful Eric Airie and Pilot, her haunted, schizophrenic patient. Especially when Pilot begins telling her secrets only he knows and only he can share..."


Allowing herself to fall in love with Eric and trying to save Pilot, Katherine grapples with the mystery the two brothers have in common: the agonizing disappearance of their younger sister twenty years ago."


A woman whose own life has unraveled, Katherine is venturing into the mind of a schizophrenic, and a maze of deception, betrayal, and danger. For what tragedy tore apart two decades ago, blood still holds together: Someone in this family murdered one of his or her own — and will kill again."


Editorial Reviews

B&N.com Editor
Our Review
Good first novels are always cause for celebration, and the current year, though barely past the half-way mark, has already offered us several: Sheldon Siegel's Special Circumstances, Andrew Pyper's Lost Girls, and Stephen Horn's In Her Defense, to name only a few. The latest addition to this distinguished group of debuts is Peter Moore Smith's Raveling, an ambitious, accomplished novel that operates successfully on a number of levels: as a thriller, as an unsparing account of a family undone by grief and loss, and as a complex experiment in narrative point of view.

Raveling tells the story of the Airie family of rural New York, a family torn apart by a senseless, unresolved tragedy. Twenty years before the primary narrative begins, the youngest of the Aerie children, seven-year-old Fiona, disappears during the course of a crowded, drunken Labor Day party. Her body is never found and, in spite of a massive, protracted investigation, no one is ever implicated in her disappearance. Two decades later, Fiona remains a troubling presence, haunting the surviving members of her family, and transforming the novel into a kind of realistic, non-traditional ghost story.

In the aftermath of Fiona's disappearance, the Aerie family literally unravels. The parents -- Hannah, a physical therapist, and James, a pilot with a history of infidelity -- eventually divorce. The youngest son, nine-year-old Pilot, begins a lifelong process of psychological withdrawal. Following a bizarre episode in which he sees himself as the Wolf Boy -- a creature bereft of language and disconnected from his own species -- he settles into a less dramatic series of personal failures, ending up as a homeless drifter living on the beaches of Southern California. Only Eric, the oldest Aerie sibling, flourishes, breezing through medical school and establishing a successful, lucrative practice as a brain surgeon.

As the novel begins, life in the Aerie family has just taken another turn for the worse. Hannah, the mother, has begun to experience symptoms -- possibly psychosomatic -- of deteriorating vision. At first, she sees ghostly double images of everything. Eventually, the world becomes a blur, and all she can see with any clarity is another kind of ghost: Fiona, whose image takes up residence in the Aerie household. At about this time, Pilot, rescued by Eric from the beaches of California, returns to his childhood home and suffers a full-blown psychotic episode. He wanders into the woods behind his home and spends three days in a state of complete catatonia, after which he is formally diagnosed as schizophrenic, and placed in the care of a clinical psychologist named Katherine De Quincy-Joy.

Pilot emerges from this psychotic interlude convinced that Eric, for unknown reasons, murdered Fiona and hid her body. Pilot also believes he has proof of Eric's guilt: a child's sneaker and a bloody knife he claims to have found beneath Eric's bed on the morning after Fiona's disappearance. But Pilot, who is obviously delusional, can't remember where he stashed the evidence. And neither he nor the reader can be absolutely certain that his disordered memories are real.

Uncertainty is, in fact, the animating principle of this novel. Everything that happens in Raveling -- everything we see, hear, and think we understand -- is filtered through the clouded perspective of Pilot Aerie, the quintessential unreliable narrator. Is Eric Aerie really a killer, or is he a misunderstood savior? Is Pilot really a bone-fide schizophrenic, or is he the victim of an artificial, drug-induced psychosis? Could Pilot himself have murdered Fiona in a forgotten moment of psychotic rage? These are among the many questions that dominate the novel, and Smith withholds the answers until the very end, leading us through his dense, carefully constructed narrative maze with the ease and assurance of a natural-born novelist.

By any reasonable standards, Raveling is a remarkable debut, an intelligent, original creation that is alternately moving and suspenseful, disorienting and illuminating. With exquisite deliberation, Smith unearths the buried fragments of an excruciating domestic tragedy. At the same time, he shows us how the world looks from the constantly shifting perspective of a damaged young man struggling to achieve clarity, closure, and a lost sense of coherence. All in all, it's an impressive performance, and announces the arrival of a gifted new novelist who takes large risks and offers equally large rewards. Raveling is the real thing, and I urge you to give it a try. This one is simply too good to pass by.

--Bill Sheehan

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
When the sister of James Airie, a diagnosed schizophrenic, disappears, his family unravels. Now, twenty years later, he's ready to "ravel everything back." Some readers found it "tense, engaging, and suspenseful - an extraordinary read." "I was entangled until the end." "A fascinating combination of mystery and family drama." "I read the last 100 pages in one sitting and switched on my answering machine. You'll want to read it undisturbed." A few found it "too quirky and contrived."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This first novel depends a great deal on gimmicks. The hero, from whose disturbed point of view much of the story is told, is the oddly named Pilot Airie (his father was an airline pilot). Diagnosed as a schizophrenic, his life has been off the rails ever since his younger sister, Fiona, disappeared mysteriously during a drunken party his parents threw during his childhood. His older brother, Eric, is a cool, collected neurosurgeon; his mother is a quondam medical specialist, whose eyesight seems to be unaccountably vanishing and whose mental state is increasingly disoriented. The overriding question, to which an attractive young psychotherapist, the elaborately named Katherine Jane De Quincey-Joy, must address herself, as she treats Pilot and begins an affair with Eric, is: whatever happened to Fiona 20 years ago, and can she do anything about it? The problem with much of this fitfully gripping, but just as often irritating, book is that much of the action is seen through Pilot's eyes, and he is a notoriously unreliable witness; he also appears to be omnipresent and all-knowing, which makes him a convenient substitute for the author. There is some vivid writing, and a certain eerie atmosphere is created around this weird family. But Moore Smith seems so intent on tricking the reader--innumerable red herrings are cast before us as to the real guilt in Fiona's disappearance--that one tends to lose patience with the whole proceeding. When even the dead Fiona is granted a narrative voice, briefly, about her grisly demise, it seems that authorial license has overrun the mark. Moore Smith has talent--his evocation of the trauma created over the years by Fiona's fate is telling--but his book is too disorganized and ill-focused to be an effective thriller, and too determined to provide some lurid chills to be the imaginative literary fiction it aspires to. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Though revolving around the 20-year-old unsolved disappearance of a young girl, Smith's exceptional first novel is foremost a tale of family. Since his sister's vanishing, diagnosed schizophrenic Pilot Airie has had plenty of time to question his sanity and wonder if he truly recalls what happened on the evening of her disappearance. With the help of Katherine, the psychologist appointed to help him after a recent episode, Pilot attempts to remember that fateful night to begin his own healing process. While Pilot's account is the centerpiece of the story, each member of his family must undergo a catharsis: the control-freak brother, the mother who can't accept the breakup of her family, and the distant father who can't stop blaming himself for his daughter's disappearance. This wonderfully simple, engaging, and well-written story deserves a spot in public library fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/00.]--Craig Shufelt, Gladwin Cty. Lib., MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Vanessa V. Friedman
Slowly, almost hypnotically, the strands of the family tragedy interweave toward a resolution that's satisfying on both a narrative and moral level.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
A classy suspense debut pitting two men against each other in that struggle between brothers that's as old as the Bible. In this version, you're not quite sure who's Cain and who's Abel until the author is ready to let you figure it out. Eric Fairlie and younger brother Pilot (named by their flier father in an early attempt to influence career choice) furnish little evidence that they share a gene pool. Eric is brilliant, handsome, and a successful neurosurgeon while Pilot is not noticeably handsome, brilliant, or by any measure successful. Diagnosed a schizophrenic, Pilot battles to stay tuned into reality—to keep his feet on the ground, as it were, in an ironic subversion of Dad's hopes for him. There was a third Fairlie sib, Fiona, who vanished 20 years ago at age seven, never to be found despite an all-out police search. Fiona's mysterious disappearance soured an already shaky fraternal relationship. Did Eric play a part in whatever disaster befell her? Pilot insists that Eric killed her brutally and cold-bloodedly. But Pilot is delusional: his therapist says so, and so does everyone else, no one more emphatically than Pilot himself. Yet suddenly Pilot claims to have in his possession a gore-encrusted knife and a tennis shoe last seen on Fiona's small foot, though he won't tell where they're hidden. If such evidence in fact exists, who does it really implicate? In other words, who is raveling and who is unraveling? Skillfully shifting his points of view, Smith keeps us close to his characters, interested in their complexities, and guessing about their motives. Stylish, substantive, and savvy.

Product Details

Hachette Book Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.91(d)

Read an Excerpt


Ordinarily at this hour my brother, Eric, would have been at his desk eating his usual Bavarian ham and brie on a wheat baguette, his cup of pumpkin soup, not too hot, a brown pear, slightly ripe, more crisp than soft. Ordinarily, as I said. But today at lunch he stood in his sterile, white-tiled, gleaming-steel-and-bright-fluorescent examining room with our mother, Hannah, who had been seeing ghosts. "I've been seeing ghosts," she complained. She had said it this morning, too, when Eric had come by our house to make coffee and eggs, if I wanted them, as he had almost every day for several weeks now, to check on me, to make sure I wasn't any more suicidal than usual. Eric had told our mother to visit his office at lunchtime, that he would take a look.

This was their intimacy: her acknowledging his authority, Eric's nonchalant acceptance of our mother's acknowledgment. This was the love between them.

"All right." Eric laughed. "Mom's nuts."

She touched the crinkly paper that covered his green vinyl examining table, absently tearing it between her long, fragile, blue-veined fingers. She was not even aware of this, her actions having become disconnected from her thoughts long ago. "It's like on television," she said. "You know how on television sometimes there's an image, like, like Bugs Bunny or something, and right next to him there's a ghost of that image, like an entirely different Bugs Bunny?"

Her face was pale, more than usual. A blue-purple vein ran beneath the skin of her temple like a trickle of red wine.

"Sure," my brother said, somewhat bemused.

"That's what I've been seeing." Almost imperceptibly, the vein in her temple pulsed. It had grown more prominent in recent years, Eric noticed, her skin whiter, finer, more transparent.

She'd become ghostlike herself.

"You're seeing double," he said. "With televisions that's called a double signal." This was descriptive only, not a diagnosis.

And somewhat dismissive.

Our mother folded her arms. "Except, my young Dr. Airie, I know which image is real and which one isn't." She was proud, it seemed, her thin lips set.

"Bugs Bunny isn't real, Mom."

She giggled, rolled her eyes. "Eric."

"Are you seeing a double image right now?"

"Not now," she said firmly. "Just sometimes."

"Hmmm." Eric, a doctor, my big brother, a fucking brain surgeon, wore a white lab coat. Beneath it, a pale blue cotton shirt monogrammed with the initials ERA, the E slightly larger, for Eric Richard Airie. He also wore a deep blue tie – silk, of course – with an elegant pattern of fleur-de-lis in gold thread. Hannah, his mother, our mother, wore a soft suede jacket, chocolate brown, a beige linen skirt, Italian leather boots. Outside, it was sweater weather, early fall. Another Labor Day had come and gone. "That could be her eyes," Eric suggested, as if speaking to another doctor in the room, as if anyone else were listening. He walked to the wall, turned off the lights, and removed a small black penlight from his lab-coat pocket. "Have you been to the optometrist, to, uh, Dr. Carewater – isn't that his name?" He aimed it directly into our mother's pupils, one after the other, watching them dilate, and on his face was a well-mannered look of medical concern.

She blinked. "I thought of that." Hannah, a physical therapist, a hand specialist, would have known if it were her eyes. "My eyes are fine," she insisted. "A little myopia never caused this kind of trouble. Besides, it comes and it goes." She repeated herself now, saying, "it comes and it goes, it comes and it goes, it comes and it goes," turning the words into a song.

"Okay." Eric sucked his teeth. "It could just be that you're crossing your eyes for some reason." He walked to the wall and flicked the lights back on. His sandwich was waiting at his desk. The pumpkin soup, was it getting cold? "Can you remember when it happens? I mean, does it happen when you're coming out of a dark room and into a bright one? Does it happen when you wake up, after your eyes have been closed for a long time?" He was looking for information, clues that would lead to an explanation, data upon which to configure a theory. He was rubbing his hands together. He was growing impatient, too, hungrier by the second.

"Let me think."

They gave the examining room over to silence for a moment, and Eric looked at his clean, hairless fingers.

Hannah tore at the paper on the examining table. Then she said, "During the day. I'll be thinking, thinking about something, I suppose, and then I, and then I just realize that I'm seeing a ghost."

"You just realize it."

"It suddenly occurs to me that I've been seeing one."

"Thinking about what, specifically?"

Our mother paused again, eyes unfocused, and then she made her characteristic statement. "Just lost, dear, just lost in my thoughts." She had abandoned the crinkly paper and was now stroking the suede of her new brown jacket, combing it in the direction of the nap. When our mother wears something new, she beams, her face joyful – radiant as a young nun's. "And there's Pilot," she said softly, her expression dropping. "I've been thinking about your brother."

I am Pilot.

I am Pilot James Airie, Eric's brother, younger by five years, named after our father's passion – he flew for the airlines – a profession I have never even considered for myself.

Eric moved to the sink and pulled up his sleeves. Ever since he had gone to medical school, he washed his hands compulsively, repeatedly, even at home. Ever since medical school, he had been aware of the risks, the bacteria and bacilli, the microbes thriving just out of sight. "There's always Pilot," he agreed.

Once, there was Fiona, too. Fiona May Airie, our sister.

Our mother hummed. It was a song no one had ever heard before, one that she made up every time she hummed it. It was, I believe, her way of trying to reassure Eric. She seemed always just on the verge of paying attention, her mind ready to wander away, her gray-green eyes unfocused and hazy. Humming underscored this quality, and it made Eric crazy. It makes everyone crazy.

I know, because I do it, too.

"Are you disoriented?" Eric asked, his tone saying, Look at me, listen.


He sighed. "When you're seeing these ghosts."


"I mean," he laughed softly, "more than usual?"

She sang, "Don't be cruel."


"Disoriented," our mother acknowledged. "Yes."


"Tired," she admitted. "Yes, yes, that, too."

"Are you sleeping?"

"Not so well."

"Are you, have you been talking to Dad?"

"Your father is lost –"

"– in the wild blue yonder." Eric narrowed his eyes. He had heard our mother say this a billion times. "I know," he said. When she spoke to our father, which was seldom, Hannah became lovesick, unfocused, a teenage girl pining for her boyfriend.

She hummed again, a slight smile on her lips.

"What about caffeine?"

"I only drink tea, dear, you know that."

"No coffee?"

This was a stupid question, her face told him. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Okay." Eric dried his hands and threw the paper towel into the mesh chrome wastebasket in the corner.

Our mother's hair, which was becoming gray, which until so very recently had been light chestnut, soft as mink, fell in uneven curls around her elegant face. It was a feminine face, a doll's face, all too easy to see hurt in. It is my face, too, a patient's face, a waiting-room face, transforming everyone who looks at it into a doctor. When I am alone, my face disappears, and I have no face at all. In someone's presence, especially Eric's or my father's, I am all face and no insides, I am a network of tiny muscles and porcelain skin stretched over a surface of cartilage, bone, and teeth. She pushed her hair away.

"Can you try to worry less?"

Our mother laughed. "About Pilot?"

"About Pilot, about Dad." He took a step toward her. "About everything."

"I don't worry about you." She placed a hand on his cheek, her fingers cool. It was always disappointing to Eric, but this is the temperature of women's hands.


"I can try." She sang, "I can try, I can try, I can try."

"Next time you're seeing the ghosts," he said, "give me a call, describe them." Eric took a deep breath. "But now I have a patient coming, a real one." He had food waiting – the sandwich, the soup – no doubt it had grown cold. "Not that you aren't real, Mom."

"I'm already gone." Our mother touched her jacket, stroking the nap of the suede downward, as though petting a cat. "Thank you, honey." She gave my brother a swift kiss and clutched his hands, squeezing his fingers in a motherly way that means something about holding on, about not letting go, about regret.

Only mothers can do this, I've noticed. Or old girlfriends.

Eric watched her leave the room, her voluminous beige linen skirt sweeping the sterile air behind her. I imagine that he washed his hands once more because she had touched them and that he looked up to see his own movie-star, brain-surgeon face in the mirror above the sink.

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