Audra Colfax is the mysterious and captivating star painting student at the center of my debut thriller, Dark Things I Adore. She’s in her third and final year of a Boston-based MFA program in painting, working on her thesis collection, when she lures her predatory professor and thesis advisor, Max Durant, to her remote home in Maine. She’s told him that the invitation has been extended so that he may view her collection-in-progress and provide professional feedback – but they both know this is a ruse. Max is convinced Audra has invited him to her inner sanctum to consummate the long-simmering sexual tension he senses between them. But Max couldn’t be more wrong. Audra has lured the charismatic artist to Maine for much darker, much more devious reasons; indeed, every detail of their weekend away together is engineered toward one thing – revenge.
As Audra executes her plan, guiding Max through the broken ephemera of his sordid past, Audra takes Max to her painting studio to look at her thesis paintings. Here is how Audra describes her project:
When I first started, I was working in these landscapes of the enlarged. Taking everyday items—but ones with significance to me—and blowing them up to a size that intensified their gravitas as well as their visible landscapes. The topography and emotion of things. An apple becomes an overwhelming erotic expression. A lantern becomes a harrowing stand-in for the passage of time. Meanwhile, there are these echoes—voices—within the objects themselves. Voices as objects; found objects
Here is a quick tour—without spoilers!—through the ten objects that Audra focuses on in her thesis collection “Her Dark Things,” the paintings at the center of Dark Things I Adore. The items are carefully selected by Audra to provoke Max; they are clues, they are indictments.
Enamel Lantern – this lantern has given generations of women the perfect light by which to sketch.
Gold Dove Charm – this necklace was given as a gift from a mother to a child; it symbolized hope for the future.
Black-Capped Chickadee – the Maine state bird, and a creature with the ability to rise above.
Apple – fruit grown on the land of a Rockveil, Maine family, and a symbol of fertility and motherhood.
Scarf – a daughter’s favorite clothing item, and a reminder hung around their necks.
Flames – a scalding bonfire around which secrets were revealed.
Raven – the signature imagery, haunting and bleak, of a local Rockveil artist.
Birches and Boulders – signifiers of a harrowing and sacred location.
Baby Blanket – the item in which the baby who had been loved and feared in equal measure was swaddled.
Rope – a lifeline, a last chance, a threat.
Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari (Titan Books) Out Now
Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay. 1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They're the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed. 2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protege's remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn't know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web. Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max's secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won't be easy, Audra knows someone must pay. What comes to light, chapter by spellbinding chapter, is that one grand, grotesque act of selfishness committed by Max as a young man, followed by years of manipulating women for art, has set into motion the machinery of his own fatal undoing. A man should pay for his crimes, and no-one is more deserving of revenge than the women to whom he owes his career. He should go into this weekend far more vigilant, but he's distracted, as always, by an overwhelming desire to have his own way. But Audra, who is well aware that he's a monster, doesn't know everything that simmers beneath his surface.