Craig Holden


"The Narcissist's Daughter"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage JUN 29, 2008)

“It was really only then—as if I had been in some kind of trance before that, some dream I refused to wake from—that I finally understood (though I had known it already in the heart of my heart) how far it had gone, how far I had taken it, what calamity I had wrought.”

If people need to be honest about anything in their lives, they really should be honest in their sexual relationships. After all, sex is complicated enough without throwing lies into the equation, but given that sexuality is a very complex issue often complicated by guilt and inadequacy, it’s not really surprising that a fair number of people have difficulty being honest with their sexual partners.  And this brings me to The Narcissist’s Daughter, a gripping tale of adultery and revenge from author Craig Holden.

The Narcissist’s Daughter is the story of three extremely manipulative adults connected by their sexual appetites who engage in a dangerous power struggle. Throw adultery, masochism, sadism, voyeurism, blackmail, ambition and revenge into this deadly blend, and you have an explosive mix and a wonderfully gripping read.

The novel’s protagonist is Syd Redding, a very intelligent and ambitious man who was forced to suspend his dream of medical school in order to pitch in with his troubled family’s finances. Syd, unfortunately, had a taste of the good life when he was accepted at a prestigious university, but the glimpse of a glittering future was snatched away. He now works at a laboratory owned and operated by Dr. Ted Kessler, a one armed veteran of the Korean War. In spite of the enormous gap in wealth and power, Kessler and Syd mentally spar off in a few minor rounds after Kessler makes it clear that he wants Syd to transfer to the night shift. Kessler drops hints that he can help with Syd’s career and acceptance at the right medical school, but Syd at first stubbornly resists his boss’s attempts to steer his future.

Syd’s resistance to Kessler’s suggestion is based partly in stubbornness, but also there’s a degree of resentment and class envy on Syd’s part against his boss. Kessler, a control freak, operates the lab with a system of favorites, stoolies and spies, and there’s part of Syd that resists belonging to Kessler. But when Syd finally transfers to the night shift he begins an explosive affair with Kessler’s luscious, sexually rapacious wife, Joyce.

As the plot of The Narcissist’s Daughter develops, Syd finds himself in the center of a web of intrigue and deceit. While at first he is the pawn of two equally manipulative people--the Kesslers, he inverts the scenario by including the Kessler’s 17-year-old daughter, Jessi into the equation. With the stakes raised to include Jessi, it gradually becomes clear just how far each person will go to get what they want, but just as I thought I had the plot worked out, the author adds dimension after dimension to this gripping read. You’d have to go a long way to find a tale of such decadent, nasty people, and I found myself trying to grapple with the notion of which of the three main characters is the worst; they’re all guilty of various moral transgressions, but there are gradations of evil here. Since readers see the story unfold through Syd’s eyes, the tendency is to read and make moral judgments regarding the characters and their actions as the book develops. But these value judgments are modified as the plot continues, and this is a marvelous strategy on the part of the author to create reader investment in the plot and in his rather nasty characters. If you enjoyed Rupert Holmes’s marvelous novel Where The Truth Lies, then there’s an excellent chance that you’ll enjoy The Narcissist’s Daughter too. It’s a highly readable book that I did not want to put down, and the surprising ending resonates long after the last page is turned.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews


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About the Author:

Craig HoldenCraig Holden grew up in Toledo, Ohio and received a B.A. in Psychology/Biology/Philosophy from the University of Toledo. In 1984, he moved to Missoula, Montana to earn his MFA Creative Writing from the University of Missoula. After one unsuccessful attempt, he moved to New York City and begin a publishing career in 1991. When his first novel, The River Sorrow and one unwritten novel were sold, he moved back to the Midwest, to Michigan, to be near his parents and sister.

He has taught at the Universities of Michigan and Toledo, and is currently the visiting writer at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

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