Lies at Midnight – CT Wilding

Lies at Midnight

Publication Date: June 12, 2015

Source: Can be bought from Smashwords.

Format: E-book

Length: 5790 words

Summary: One week before their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Edward sits by his wife as midnight approaches. This will be her last night before the cancer takes her, and there are things Edward needs to say if he wants to be the person he so needs to be…For the first time he reveals his true self to his wife…or does he?  (Source: Smashwords product description).

Short Version: Interesting but uneven foray into the psyche of a disturbed and disturbing man.

Longer Version: Oh, one of those stories that are almost impossible to describe without spoiling key plot elements 🙂 Anything I can reveal about the plot of this short story is in the summary. It’s a dark (in places, VERY dark) look at a man who suddenly loses inhibitions that have kept him a decent, dull, law-abiding citizen for years.

Wilding makes some excellent observations in the beginning part of this story in particular, about the nature of living life as a “reliable, boring old wanker.” The title is derived from a beautiful, striking line: “What he felt was the excitement of midnight” – and the substitution of “excitement” for “lies” is a subtlety I saw and appreciated a lot.

On spelling, punctuation, and grammar: Wilding often omits commas from dialogue, resulting in lines like “Do you want to come over Helen?” There are quite a few other minor flubs, such as comma splices. Individually no big deal, but the absent commas in particular started to distract me before long. There are a few factual/logical inconsistencies present, too, such as Edward’s assertion he started cheating on his wife “after she turned forty” – when the narrative previously states that they didn’t marry until she turned forty-one. (Yes, he could have cheated on her previous to marriage, but the timeline doesn’t seem to match up.)

The one question I was unfortunately left with when I reached the last page was why? Why would someone inflict such harm on others, purely to “see how bad he can be”? This may or may not be psychologically true (I’m not a forensic psychiatrist, though I’m interested in the field) but as character motivation, it fell flat for me. I immediately thought of Ed Chatterton’s peerless Road Kill which, like Lies at Midnight, has a completely unlikeable male protagonist. But Road Kill’s Pete Skennar has motivations that make sense to the sane, law-abiding reader in essence if not in degree. Who hasn’t done something they didn’t quite intend, in a fit of rage, and had to clean up the consequences? And how often do we actually make things worse in trying? While we’re horrified at Skennar’s disregard for decency and law and order, we understand why he’s doing it.

Edward, by contrast, seems motivated by nothing more than the desire to be as bad as possible. He gains nothing from it except sick satisfaction at the pain of others. It makes for difficult reading in places. If this was a longer work instead of a short story, Wilding may well have been able to make Edward a more sympathetic character, or at least characterised his wife and stepdaughter in enough detail for his actions to make sense to himself. But I was left baffled as to what Edward could have thought he was gaining from his actions, beyond a mid-life-crisis feeling of not wanting to be “just the same as everyone else.” There are ways to catch that high that don’t involve abruptly switching gears from decent citizen to absolute amorality.

A story not without its merits, but the basic premise was fatally flawed for me.

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