The characters in Justin Kramon’s “The Preservationist” (Pegasus Books, 288 pages, $24.95) lie flat on the page. Each seems manufactured to play his or her narrowly defined role in this psychological thriller. Kramon, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the author of “Finny,” manipulates his characters through a series of artificial situations to set up the book’s final confrontations.
“The Preservationist” stars Julia, a damaged young woman who finds herself in the sights of two men, one a fellow college student, the other older and an employee of a restaurant she frequents. In the book’s early going, Kramon does a fine job keeping the reading guessing as to which of these men, Marcus or Sam (or perhaps a third who makes a brief, disquieting appearance), poses the real danger.
But once everyone’s role is firmly established, the thinness of the characterizations becomes a more substantial problem. While the book’s alternating points of view allow us to be privy to each character’s backstory and self-mythologizing, none feels fully fleshed out. The book’s dialogue doesn’t help matters, as it often feels forced or overly mannered, particularly in moments of crisis.
The book’s closing pages, written in the present tense at a point distant from the story’s main events, are some of the strongest in the book. The characters seem most alive in these pages, haunted by the trauma of the past but looking toward the future.