Tony and Susan

Tony and Susan

by Austin Wright


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Fifteen years ago, Susan Morrow left her first husband, Edward Sheffield, an unpublished writer. Now, she's enduring middle class suburbia as a doctor's wife, when out of the blue she receives a package containing the manuscript of her ex-husband's first novel. He writes asking her to read the book; she was always his best critic, he says.

As Susan reads, she is drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a math professor driving his family to their summer house in Maine. And as we read with her, we too become lost in Sheffield's thriller. As the Hastings' ordinary, civilized lives are disastrously, violently sent off course, Susan is plunged back into the past, forced to confront the darkness that inhabits her, and driven to name the fear that gnaws at her future and will change her life.

TONY AND SUSAN is a dazzling, eerie, riveting novel about fear and regret, blood and revenge, marriage and creativity. It is simply one of a kind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594828228
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 120,541
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Austin Wright was born in New York in 1922. He was a novelist and academic, for many years Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Cincinnati. He lived with his wife and daughters in Cincinnati, and died in 2003 at the age of eighty.

Read an Excerpt

Tony and Susan

By Wright, Austin

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2011 Wright, Austin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446582902


This goes back to the letter Susan Morrow’s first husband Edward sent her last September. He had written a book, a novel, and would she like to read it? Susan was shocked because, except for Christmas cards from his second wife signed “Love,” she hadn’t heard from Edward in twenty years.

So she looked him up in her memory. She remembered he had wanted to write, stories, poems, sketches, anything in words, she remembered it well. It was the chief cause of trouble between them. But she thought he had given up writing later when he went into insurance. Evidently not.

In the unrealistic days of their marriage there was a question whether she should read what he wrote. He was a beginner and she a tougher critic than she meant to be. It was touchy, her embarrassment, his resentment. Now in his letter he said, damn! but this book is good. How much he had learned about life and craft. He wanted to show her, let her read and see, judge for herself. She was the best critic he ever had, he said. She could help him too, for in spite of its merits he was afraid the novel lacked something. She would know, she could tell him. Take your time, he said, scribble a few words, whatever pops into your head. Signed, “Your old Edward still remembering.”

The signature irritated her. It reminded her of too much and theatened the peace she had made with her past. She didn’t like to remember or slip back into that unpleasant frame of mind. But she told him to send the book along. She felt ashamed of her suspicions and objections. Why he’d ask her rather than a more recent acquaintance. The imposition, as if what pops into her head were easier than thinking things through. She couldn’t refuse, though, lest it look like she were still living in the past. The package arrived a week later. Her daughter Dorothy brought it into the kitchen where they were eating peanut butter sandwiches, she and Dorothy and Henry and Rosie. The package was heavily taped. She extracted the manuscript and read the title page:


A Novel By

Edward Sheffield

Well typed, clean pages. She wondered what the title meant. She liked Edward’s gesture, reconciling and flattering. She had a sneaky feeling that put her on guard, so that when her real husband Arnold came in that night, she announced boldly: I heard from Edward today.

Edward who?

Oh, Arnold.

Oh Edward. Well. What does that old bastard have to say for himself?

That was three months ago. There’s a worry in Susan’s mind that comes and goes, hard to pin down. When she’s not worrying, she worries lest she’s forgotten what she’s worrying about. And when she knows what she’s worrying about, like whether Arnold understood what she meant, or what he meant when he said what he meant this morning, even then she has a feeling it’s really something else, more important. Meanwhile she runs the house, pays the bills, cleans and cooks, takes care of the kids, teaches three times a week in the community college, while her husband in the hospital repairs hearts. In the evenings she reads, preferring that to television. She reads to take her mind off herself.

She looks forward to Edward’s novel because she likes to read, and she’s willing to believe he can improve, but for three months she has put it off. The delay was not intentional. She put the manuscript in the closet and forgot, remembering thereafter only at wrong times, like while shopping for groceries or driving Dorothy to her riding lesson or grading freshman papers. When she was free, she forgot.

When not forgetting, she would try to clean out her mind to read Edward’s novel in the way it deserved. The problem was old memory, coming back like an old volcano, full of rumble and quake. All that abandoned intimacy, his out-of-date knowledge of her, and hers of him. Her memory of his admiration of himself, his vanity, also his fears—his smallness—knowledge she must ignore if her reading was to be fair. She’s determined to be fair. To be fair she must deny her memory and make as if she were a stranger.

She couldn’t believe he merely wanted her to read his book. It must be something personal, a new twist in their dead romance. She wondered what Edward thought was missing in his book. His letter suggested he didn’t know, but she wondered if there was a secret message: Susan and Edward, a subtle love song? Saying, read this, and when you look for what is missing, find Susan.

Or hate, which seemed more likely, though they got rid of that ages ago. If she was the villain, the missing thing a poison to lick like Snow White’s deep red apple. It would be nice to know how ironic Edward’s letter really was.

But though she prepared herself, she kept forgetting, did not read, and in time believed her failure was a completed event. This made her both defiant and ashamed until she got a card from Stephanie a few days before Christmas, with a note from Edward attached. He’s coming to Chicago, the note said, December 30, one day only, staying at the Marriott, hope to see you then. She was alarmed because he’d want to talk about his unread manuscript, and then relieved to realize there was still time. After Christmas: Arnold her husband will be going to a convention of heart surgeons, three days. She can read it then. It will occupy her mind, a good distraction from Arnold’s trip, and she needn’t feel guilty after all.

Anticipating, she wonders what Edward looks like now. She remembers him blond, birdlike, eyes glancing down his beaky nose, unbelievably skinny with wire arms and pointed elbows, genitals disproportionately large among the bones. His quiet voice, clipped words, impatient as if he thought most of what he was obliged to say were too stupid to need saying.

Will he seem more dignified or more pompous? Probably he has put on weight, and his hair will be gray unless he’s bald. She wonders what he’ll think of her. She would like him to notice how much more tolerant, easygoing, and generous she is and how much more she knows. She fears he’ll be put off by the difference between twenty-four and forty-nine. She has changed her glasses, but in Edward’s day she wore no glasses at all. She is chubbier, breasts bigger, cheeks rosy where they were pale, convex where they were concave. Her hair, which in Edward’s day was long straight and silky, is neat and short and turning gray. She has become healthy and wholesome, and Arnold says she looks like a Scandinavian skier.

Now that she is really going to read it, she wonders what kind of novel it is. Like traveling without knowing what country you’re going to. The worst would be if it’s inept, which might vindicate her for the past but would embarrass her now. Even if it’s not inept, there are risks: an intimate trip through an unfamiliar mind, forced to contemplate icons more meaningful to others than herself, confined with strangers she never chose, asked to participate in alien customs. With Edward as guide, whose dominance she once so struggled to escape.

The negative possibilities are tremendous: to be bored, to be offended, bathed in sentimentality, stunned by depression and gloom. What interests Edward at forty-nine? She feels sure only of what the novel will not be. Unless Edward has changed radically, it won’t be a detective story or baseball story or Western. It won’t be a story of blood and revenge.

What’s left? She’ll find out. She begins Monday night, day after Christmas, after Arnold has gone. It will take her three evenings to complete.


Excerpted from Tony and Susan by Wright, Austin Copyright © 2011 by Wright, Austin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Saul Bellow

Marvellously written —the last thing you would expect in a story of blood and revenge. Beautiful.

Ruth Rendell

Absorbing, terrifying, beautiful . . . unforgettable.

Customer Reviews

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Tony and Susan 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
hazelk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a recent online book group read and i wrote this:-I had got on pretty well with this novel until I started to lose patience with the narrative within the narrative and Edward¿s creation, the character Tony. I persevered with the book and finished it today.Like the character Susan I¿m working on my responses. I appreciated that the author (via the character Susan) was interested in the idea of a reader¿s ongoing response to a work of fiction, how we get or don¿t get involved in characters and scenarios, how our real lives impact on our responses because the mundane everyday world interrupts our immersion in the fictional world and our personal stories as readers affect our responses to fictional characters. I found this interesting.I could also see how the author used different styles of writing for the two narratives ¿ the more straightforward style that you would find in thrillers, detective stories etc for Edward¿s book and the more clotted type of syntax you find in modern literature when a character¿s internal thoughts and memories are worked through. Again, I found this quite interesting.Overall though it didn¿t quite work. Perhaps there needs to be just one character you could empathise with, care about or even just detest. I suppose this is isn¿t easy when the author is depicting all the contradictions and shades of grey in everyday life.On the whole I¿m glad I ordered the book ¿ something different and that good old stand-by `thought-provoking¿.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a re-release of a book that reviewed well but didn't have a large readership, the author has since passed away but the publishers think so highly of this book that they have given it a second chance. I have to admit that it really held my interest, it is a book within a book construct, but the foreboding tension of the story is fantastic. The last third of the book was not as good as what came before but it has stuck in my mind. That is always the sign to me of a successful book.
SulfurDog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a travail! The novel within the novel, "Nocturnal Animals" which takes up about 90% of this book is written in the style of Jim Thompson where the characters having no moral compass appear to have undergone extensive lobotomies having little similarities to any humankind that I've ever run into. I found it impossible to care or identify with anyone inside or outside of the internal novel. If we were told that the entire story took on a planet other than Earth or perhaps in some other dimension this would make for more of a satisfying ending than the one we are presented with.
Spoo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read this book twice in the last ten years and its story is as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. A brilliant book with alot of twists. Simply unforgettable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Something compelling enough to keep reading it but by far not a favorite. I'm anxious to see the movie. It's definitely got the creepy factor in the beginning.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I went into this reading with high hopes, but have come out the other side wishing I had the the time I wasted reading it back. Usually I like the books better than the movies but I am not sure how anyone could make the movie worse than this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reviews-ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Anne B. for Readers Favorite Since Susan Morrow had always been her ex-husband Edward¿s harshest critic, she was surprised when she received a box containing his manuscript. Eventually, she picks up the manuscript and begins reading. Quickly she becomes engrossed in the story of Tony Hastings. Tony¿s story opens with a volatile and intense beginning. When Tony¿s car is forced off the road his wife and daughter are taken hostage. Tony is incapable of rescuing his family; he is weak and self-centered. He is more concerned with his own feelings than he is with the plight of his wife and daughter. This leads him to seek revenge. This book has a plot within a plot. We learn about Susan¿s life as she reads about Tony¿s life. I kept waiting for something to happen to Susan or for something surrounding her but it never happened. She was a married wife living with children and a husband who is unfaithful. We quickly learn that Susan is a worrier. She worries about not knowing what to worry about. I applaud the author¿s use of a story within a story; I found it distinctive and stimulating. It is particularly so in Tony¿s story; though he isn¿t the most likeable character he is a character with depth. He is imperfect in his self absorption. I found Susan¿s story to lack the depth of Tony¿s and yet it was a good story, just a little bland. Toward the end of the book both plots seem to run out of a bit of steam. I wondered if the author became tired or bored with the concept. Over all, "Tony and Susan" is a good read. I give it 4 stars. It would be inappropriate if I do not mention the two narrators, Lorelei King and Peter Marinker. Both do a fabulous job. Their voices are expressive and lend much to the plot.
harstan More than 1 year ago
English teacher Susan Morrow has been married to Arthur a surgeon. He and her second husband have been together for years raising kids in suburbia. It has been over two decades since Susan has communicated with her first spouse Edward Sheffield, but he has sent her a manuscript Nocturnal Animals asking her to read it and tell him what she thinks. Not interested until she learns her ex is coming to visit her to see what she thinks; Susan begins reading the story of math professor Tony Hastings, his wife Laura and their child Helen. At first she hates the family in terror plot as she expects an unhappy ending, but soon cannot put the novel down as she flashes from the book to her life with Edward and Arthur. Using the story inside a story mechanism, Austin Wright provides an insightful profound look at two "families" and the writer who connects them. The story line focuses on accountability as people reject any responsibility for their actions even blatant abuse. Both "novels" are entertainingly discerning as the veneer of civilization conceals the reality of irresponsible, unethical and often violent behavior. Harriet Klausner