Layne Fargo’s Temper is billed as being perfect for fans of psychological thrillers where the stakes are high and the characters will stop at nothing to achieve their dreams. Since books like that are some of my favorite things to read right now, I was eager to give it a try. Unfortunately, an anticlimactic ending and awkward dynamics among the characters caused the novel to fall flat.
Kira Rascher is no stranger to hard work. She’s been a part of the Chicago theater scene for over a decade, but the roles she’s snagged have been far from glamorous. Now though, it seems her luck has finally turned, and she’s been chosen to star opposite Malcolm Mercer, one of the most beloved actors in the midwest. Malcolm has a reputation for being extremely difficult to work with; in fact, one actor is rumored to have attempted suicide after starring in a show Malcolm directed, and another suffered a nervous breakdown after just a few rehearsals. Still, Kira isn’t worried. She’s confident in her ability to handle whatever Malcom throws at her, especially since this role is perfect for her.
Joanna Cuyler is Malcolm’s business partner. The two founded a small theater company twelve years earlier, and Joanna has worked tirelessly behind the scenes of every production. She once had dreams of being a playwright, but she’s resigned herself to a life lived in Malcolm’s shadow, a position she craves and despises in equal measure. Now, with Kira on the scene, Joanna begins to feel threatened by the other woman’s talent and obvious power over Malcolm.
Over the next few weeks, as Malcolm and Kira begin spending more and more time together in preparation for the show’s opening, Joanna grows ever more insecure. She is desperate to prove how invaluable she is to Malcolm both personally and professionally, but this turns out to be much harder to do than she expected. Plus, Joanna is keeping a secret from both Malcolm and the world at large, a secret Kira just might uncover.
The story moves back and forth between Joanna’s and Kira’s points of view, and the chapters are short, giving the narrative a rather choppy feel. I often struggled to remain invested in the story, since the constant switching of perspective was quite jarring.
Both Kira and Joanna are complex characters, with tons of emotional baggage, but I found it difficult to really like either of them. Kira was slightly more tolerable, but slightly is definitely the operative word here. The author doesn’t give us all that much information about either woman’s backstory, so I kind of had the feeling they existed in a vacuum. I never had a clear idea what drove them to succeed, or what made Malcolm so irresistible to them both.
Speaking of Malcolm, we never spend any time in his head, but he still manages to feel like one of the novel’s central characters. Everything Kira and Joanna do has some connection to him, and quite honestly, I couldn’t understand his appeal. He’s an egotistical, manipulative man who sees nothing wrong with pushing past any boundary put in place against him. He considers himself one of the greatest actors to set foot on a stage, and I was baffled by how easily the rest of the world seemed to agree with this assessment. There are a few people who see through him, but no one pays them any heed.
The synopsis alludes to a great deal of tension between Malcolm, Joanna, and Kira, and while tension does exist, I struggled to understand what was causing it. Joanna is deeply in love with Malcolm, or, at least, she thinks she is, but it’s clear from the very beginning that he loves nothing more than belittling her. Kira is obviously a talented actress who hasn’t managed to find the role that will elevate her to the stardom she seeks, and there’s no way Malcolm is going to allow her to outshine him in the current show. Basically, the story is made up of page after page of these two women mooning after this despicable man. Then, in the very last chapter, a tragedy occurs, but the book ends before we can fully explore the effect this one event will have on the lives of the characters.
Temper could have been a powerful story had it been written differently, but as it is, I came away with an overall feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction. The pacing was uneven, the characters were difficult to empathize with, and the huge build-up amounted to nothing, making this a book I cannot recommend.