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Thriller unveils hidden envy

Sometimes even the most normal families are hiding the darkest feelings inside.

Fred Leebron’s psychological thriller “Six Figures” is the embodiment of twisting a knife inside and ripping the faĆ”ade of ordinary lives to physical and metaphoric shreds.

The novel, which is set in boomtown Charlotte, N.C., takes the reader into the life and heads of the Lutz family of four — husband and wife and two children. This story, however, is not about family ties or togetherness. It’s about the economic and social envy that eats away at both parents, Warner and Megan Lutz.

Leebron, a creative writing professor at Gettysburg College, gives his characters personalities that are both sympathetic and annoying.

Eaten alive by jealousy, Warner Lutz also has a complex persona. Described by his wife as “the most negative person” she knows, he has a short temper and a strong aversion to social conformity, though he still wants to live like his fellow college graduates — rich and powerful.

Megan Lutz is the female version of Warner and the two come close to hating each other throughout the novel. Although Megan is almost rabid about living normally with the two kids, the house and the comfortable jobs, she is constantly at odds with Warner, who never wanted the two kids and the house, but would cling to the job in a second.

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Plagued with conflicting shallowness and genuine concern, these characters help Leebron set the scene where Megan is brutally attacked with a hammer in the back of her art gallery. Warner is immediately the prime suspect and everyone, especially Megan’s mother and Warner’s own parents, believe that he did it.

Leebron is brilliant with his characters’ own assessment of the situation and the utter ambiguity that leaves the reader never quite sure if Warner did it. Several things pop up after Warner is arrested that leaves one’s eyebrow quirked. What stands out the most is when Leebron reveals the dark nature of all the characters — they are all selfish and hateful.

Warner’s mother, Ruth, apparently smacked him around a lot during childhood, and he reciprocated once when he was eleven. What makes the abuse most disturbing is how Ruth later reacts to her son’s predicament.

“Obviously, I didn’t hit you enough,” she says.

Leebron’s genius is how he lets the hate between everybody drift to the surface so easily. It’s not something anyone would normally expect from such seemingly stable and caring people. Even Megan, when she wakes up, believes Warner would do something like that to her, although she doesn’t admit it to herself.

Another surprising element comes when Warner hits Megan once after she cheats on him. Never knowing what to believe forces the reader to draw her own conclusions after psychologically squeezing every drop from Warner and Megan.

Leebron presents an excellent thriller and helps unwrap the fine tissue paper of normalcy that lies over society. His development is excellent and leaves the reader in constant suspense. He purposely ends the book ambivalently, leaving everyone to question everything and perhaps even question their own lives and the thin veil of banality that can be so easily stripped away with even the faintest exhaled breath.

“Six Figures” is a must read for any fan of suspense novels and psychological thrillers.

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