Given that it’s the time of year when you just want to curl up with an absorbing, untaxing read every so often and forget about the weather, not to mention the ceaseless barrage of pre-electionioneering that’s already battering us here in the UK and will be for months to come, Nicci Cloke’s Lay Me Down seemed an appealing choice. Two things attracted me to it: one was its San Francisco location, the other was its structure, exploring the lives and relationships of two lovers before they got together.
Jack and Elsa meet in a London bar on New Year’s Eve. Within nine months, Jack has been offered his dream job working on a maintenance team on the Golden Gate Bridge and Elsa has thrown up everything to join him. A little rash, you might think, but they’re in love. Jack settles in, becoming part of the team and making friends with Alex but there’s one part of the job he finds hard: all the ironworkers are expected to volunteer to talk potential suicides down from the bridge. It’s tough, and Jack finds it particularly so. Meanwhile Elsa explores the city, riding the buses and seeing the sights only managing to make one friend: her next door neighbour Pearl who often looks after her granddaughter’s children. As Jack’s after work beers with Alex become more frequent and prolonged so Elsa becomes more depressed and lonely. Threaded through the San Francisco narrative are snapshots of Jack and Elsa’s past, gradually revealing how they’ve come to be the people they are.
Cloke’s descriptions of San Francisco are beguiling. It’s a city I love although it’s a long time since I visited it and she summoned it up beautifully for me. Jack and Elsa are sympathetically portrayed, both battered and bruised in some way or another but hoping for tenderness and a future together. Just one reservation: the structure which was one of its initial attractions proved to be somewhat fragmentary and a little over complicated. Short flashbacks to the years preceding Jack and Elsa’s relationship frequently interrupt the San Francisco sections, breaking the flow a little too much for me. That said it’s an absorbing, entertaining read: one that will see you nicely through a few long dark evenings.