Sunny Solomon Book Review

‘Payback’ brings victims’ harsh realities to the forefront

Sunny Solomon Book ReviewLike most of her work, Mary Gordon’s “Payback” comes packed with her philosophically emotional ingredients.

Gordon’s 13th novel begins in Brimston, Ariz., in February 2018, ending one year later in the same city But from Page 3 to Page 338, there are 47 years.

Quin Archer, Agnes Vaughan and those 47 years are the main characters. Quin is the producer/star of a reality TV show called “Payback,” based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand’s theory of beneficent selfishness. Fans send Quin their stories of victimization, and she, in turn, finds the abusers and confronts them (with the abused in tow) live on national TV (including podcasts).

In Quin’s world, there are no victims – only those willing to stand up to the wrongdoers and demand payback. The show’s success is worldwide.

Part I ends with Quin’s announcement that her next broadcast will be personal. She will disclose the person who betrayed her. She reminds her enthusiastic and adoring fans that “Forgiveness without payback keeps a victim in his chains.”

Part II steps back to April 1972. Agnes is a young art history teacher at a posh all-girls high school in New Canterbury, R.I. Fifteen-year-old Heidi Stolz is Agnes’s most troubled and, at the same time, most intriguing student.

Outrageously obnoxious

Heidi, bright and outrageously obnoxious, socially distances herself from classmates and teachers. Kindhearted Agnes attempts to engage Heidi’s interest in art by giving Heidi her ticket to a Guernica lecture to be held in New York. Agnes, having recently bought a very chic pair of red boots, which she later believes are much too stylish for her own tastes, also gives the boots to Heidi – despite deeply worrying that she may have overstepped proper teacher/student boundaries.

Heidi attends the lecture (wearing the red boots) and meets an older gentleman who gives more attention to both her looks and her brain than she’s ever experienced. She masks her age with newly tried sophistication, but the day does not end well.

She runs from the man’s apartment, takes the train home and seeks solace from the only person she can trust. Agnes’s response to Heidi’s outpouring of her experience? “How could you have let that happen?” A betrayed Heidi turns and runs.

Agnes’s remorseful guilt causes skin rashes and more. She flees to Europe, eventually marries and becomes Mrs. Di Martini of Rome. Heidi, too, has fled, living years in abject poverty and self-imposed sexual abuse.

Eventually, discovering Ayn Rand, Heidi gets a toehold and becomes Quin Archer. We now hold our breath, waiting for “payback.”

Agnes returns to New Canterbury in 2015, a retired art restorer, widow and grandmother. The world has changed; platitudes are as worthless as the lies posing as truths. Secrets have gone viral. Real life, with its pain and horrors, is presented as entertainment.
It is now April 2018 when Agnes answers her doorbell.

Don’t pass up this novel.

Sunny Solomon is a freelance writer and head of the Clayton Book Club. Visit her website at for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’

Sunny Solomon
Sunny Solomon
Freelance writer at Clayton Book Club | Website

Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.