Tag Archives: thriller

WATCHING EDIE by Camilla Way

The first book I finished this year was Camilla Way’s Watching Edie, a suspense novel about two friends who reconnect twenty years after a tumultuous summer that destroyed their friendship and forever changed their lives.

9780735207363Edie, a thirty-three year-old woman living in London, is facing a pregnancy as a single mother with few friends or connections. When she’s at a vulnerable spot before the baby arrives, Heather, a friend from high school, appears at her door. Edie is shaken and upset: what is Heather doing there? Why, after all these years, has she reappeared in Edie’s life after the demise of their friendship? After Edie’s baby daughter is born, when she is at her most vulnerable and alone, Heather appears again, taking care of Edie and the baby as Edie slips into a deep post-partum depression. Edie eventually emerges from the depression and is shocked by the control Heather now has on her life. She ejects her from her apartment and manages to pull herself together.

Meanwhile, Way threads the women’s history through the narrative, flashing back to their high school years and teasing out what happened to cause their estrangement.

I find that reading thrillers like Watching Edie is like inhaling a bag of movie popcorn. It’s addictive and tastes good as you’re doing it, but in the end you feel empty and a little ill. I think Way is a good writer, and I got drawn into this story quickly and was quite sympathetic toward Edie. (Way’s depiction of PPD alone is chilling.) The last chapter, however, when you find out what happened between the two women, was disappointing. The big reveal, while quite upsetting, wasn’t the shock I was expecting. Everything ended very suddenly with the novel taking a sharp turn away from what came before.

There were also some details early in the book that didn’t make sense in retrospect, but I won’t address them here because I don’t want to spoil the story.

I listened to Watching Edie mostly on audio, and I thought the two narrators, Fiona Hardingham and Heather Wilds, did an excellent job. Their accents and voices were easy to distinguish and they really established the two women’s personalities well. I was so engrossed in the audiobook that I eventually picked up the print version and just finished it off so that I could get to the ending more quickly. (Popcorn.)

Not a bad start to the year of reading, but I think I am swearing off thrillers for a while.

 

 

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by B. A. Paris

514ceo43n3LSo I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but I got sucked into the buzz about Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris, and put a hold on it at the library. Then when it came in I grabbed it and promptly started and finished it.

Spoiler-free summary:

Grace and Jack are married and have a beautiful house in the suburbs. They are always together. They throw dinner parties with complicated menus that come out perfectly, and seem deliriously happy together. They are soon to welcome Grace’s sister Millie, who has Downs Syndrome, to live in their home with them, and Jack is over the moon about it.

Is that the whole story, or is there something perhaps more sinister going on?

I had a very hard time putting Behind Closed Doors down. I read it very quickly, which is unlike me, because once I got sucked into the story, I had to know how it ended. That doesn’t mean I liked the book, though. It is victim porn, which you can’t turn away from despite the horror of what is going on. It’s also incredibly stressful. I read this at night before bed and then had trouble calming down enough to sleep.

If you like heart-pounding books with seriously disturbed characters, then Behind Closed Doors may be for you. I was too disturbed by what was going on to enjoy it on any level. It’s not gory or violent, but upsetting on many other levels. Reading it was also further confirmation that I am really not the thriller type.

I was happy to move on from this one.

FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff

I finally made it through the audio (14 hours) of Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and I’m still processing the book. It’s one of those books where the less you know about it going in, the better, but OMG I want to talk and talk about this book with anyone who has read it.

I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

Fates and Furies is basically two books in one. Both are about the marriage of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and his wife, Mathilde Yoder. One half is told from Lotto’s perspective, and the other from Mathilde’s. The first half, Lotto’s side, is about his deep, deep love for Mathilde, his failed acting career, his brilliant playwriting career, and the friends and family in the couple’s orbit during the course of the marriage. Despite the early death of his father and his mother’s estrangement, Lotto was born under a lucky star (Fates). People are naturally drawn to him, and after his early professional failures, his success skyrockets. Most of all, he – a born womanizer – is devoted to his wife Mathilde, whom he believes to be the purest, most honest women he’s ever known. He’s faithful to her to the end.

(SORT OF SPOILER-Y – proceed with caution) The second half of the book is told from Mathilde’s perspective, and what a change in perspective it is. Mathilde loves Lotto fiercely and purely, but beyond that, she is not the person he believes her to be. I found her to be one of the most interesting and disturbing characters I’ve ever come across in a book. The twists and machinations that Groff unspools in the second half of Fates and Furies are breathtaking. Mathilde is a deeply damaged and angry woman (Furies), and I have deep appreciation for Groff’s ability to conjure her up. I certainly couldn’t have.

So there are really two books to review here. I found the first to be a little tedious. I skimmed through some of the chapters about Lotto’s plays, and I ultimately found him tiresome. He’s self-absorbed and lives in a kind of old-fashioned world where he doesn’t have to focus on quotidian details like bills or cooking. Maybe it was the audio version that did it, but I was also annoyed by his Southern drawl and theatrical delivery. This was likely all intentional – Groff setting up the counterpoint of Lotto’s openness and idealism with Mathilde’s secrecy. The second half of the book was the thrill for me, hands down. I couldn’t get enough of it.

I’ve read a bunch of reviews of this book that describe Fates and Furies as the story of a marriage and the secrets and passions two people hide from each other over the years. Uh, no. This is not a typical marriage! Neither one is a typical spouse, and Mathilde’s machinations are (I hope) rare among loving unions. Instead, I recommend this Slate review by Laura Miller, who nailed it:

The novel is in many ways about marriage, as many critics have observed. But it’s also about something even more universal than love. Two people sharing the same home and what seems to be the same life can occupy entirely different planets, storywise; two very different short novels can, bound together, explore the way we use stories to get what we need to make sense of our own lives and others’… ‘Fates,’ published alone, would have felt slight. ‘Furies,’ published alone, would have seemed farcical. In binding them together and letting the parts reflect each other like distorted mirrors, Groff reminds us that while Lotto may live in a dream world, he’s not the only one.

Groff’s certainly is a dream world. I’ve woken up from it and am still working on interpreting it.

About the audio: two books, two narrators. Lotto’s narrator Will Damron imbued him with the dreamy drawl I mentioned earlier, making him almost otherworldly and, I thought, inaccessible. I also didn’t like his Mathilde – too much of a falsetto. She sounded like a pansy. Julia Whelan was the perfect narrator for Mathilde, though. Precise, cold, and thin, she gave Mathilde the calculating, deliberate tone needed to pull her off. So the audio was a mixed bag for me.

If you’ve read Fates and Furies, come sit next to me. Let’s talk.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

So I jumped on the bandwagon and read the Book of 2015, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one of the recent crop of Psychological Thrillers Narrated by Women that may or may not achieve Gone Girl success. The Girl on the Train has three narrators: (1) Rachel, a depressed alcoholic who is divorced from Tom and rides the train to London every day past his house, where she used to live and where Tom now lives with (2) Anna, who has a toddler, is happily married to Tom, and enlists babysitting help from (3) Megan, Anna and Tom’s neighbor who is married to Scott and has a checkered past.

Rachel, who is obsessed with Tom and mourning the loss of her old life, sees Megan and Scott’s house every day and romanticizes their relationship, naming them Jason and Jess and creating personas for them that reflect the life she wishes she had. But one day, when she passes the house from the train, she sees Megan with another man. And a few days later, Megan has disappeared – on the same night that Rachel was in the neighborhood, so drunk that she can’t remember what she saw. Rachel is devastated by the demise of this perfect couple she has concocted, and ends up getting involved with the investigation. She goes to the police with what she knows, she tells Scott about Megan’s affair, and she even manages to interact with the man Megan had the affair with, all the while continuing her unwelcome intrusions into Tom and Anna’s life. In short, her already teetering life goes entirely off the tracks.

The Girl on the Train is told from Rachel, Anna and Megan’s perspective, and as the chapters go by, you realize that the three women are not as different as they might seem. They each have their own insecurities and complicated feelings about motherhood. They are involved with some of the same men. Their interior thoughts reveal ugliness and weaknesses that they try, often unsuccessfully, to hide from view.

I can’t reveal much more without giving away what happens in the book, but there is a twist toward the end that brings the women’s stories together and resolves the question of what happened to Megan. I was a little disappointed by the twist, because it ultimately wasn’t one that the reader could have reasonably figured out on his or her own. I prefer twists that were hinted at, even briefly, by the plots leading up to them, and I think Hawkins hid the ball on this one. But the ending was nonetheless pulse-quickening and mostly satisfying (though in retrospect there are a few key things that don’t hold up).

I think I liked the experience of reading The Girl on the Train more than I like the book now. I was kind of glad to finish it. I listened to it on audio, so it was quite an investment of time for a story that in retrospect is basically a thriller. But it was definitely entertaining and held my attention. The narrators’ voices were fantastic – sad, humiliated Rachel; confident, no-nonsense Anna; and wispy, melancholy Megan. I think they did a great job bringing these characters to life.

I’d like to give away my audio copy of The Girl on the Train to someone who wants to take a crazy ride with this book. If you’d like to win, leave me a comment here and I will pick a name on Friday, February 20.

HER by Harriet Lane


There has been a recent mini-explosion in British psychological thrillers with unreliable female narrators, perhaps fueled by the incredible success of Gone Girl. And I have succumbed to their wily charms. I am in the middle of The Girl on the Train on audio, and just finished Her by Harriet Lane. Both are hot books this month – and in fact both were reviewed together yesterday in the Washington Post.

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD. (I won’t ruin the surprise of the book, but I may share more than you want to know if you’re planning to read Her.)

I will divide my experience reading Her into two parts: the first 90 percent, and the last 10 percent.

The first 90 percent: I was hooked.

Her is about two women – Nina and Emma. They are the same age, but Nina has a 16 year-old daughter and is a successful artist, while Emma has a toddler and and a baby, and has left behind a career in television news to stay at home with her kids. Nina is cool and pulled-together, while Emma is exhausted and frazzled. They live in the same neighborhood, and when the book opens, Nina has just seen Emma for the first time in many years. We learn that Emma wronged Nina once, many years ago, and that Nina is still very angry, but we don’t know what Emma did. Emma doesn’t recognize Nina, and is therefore unsuspecting and open when Nina slowly starts to ingratiate herself into Emma’s life.

Lane sets up her story beautifully. Nina shrewdly constructs situations in which Emma will be worried and anxious, and Nina will come to the rescue. She returns Emma’s missing wallet. She finds Emma’s son, who has wandered away from the park, and takes him to the police station. She comes to the rescue as a babysitter when Emma’s other babysitter (who happens to be Nina’s daughter) cancels. Her is told from both women’s perspectives, alternating, so as Emma’s gratitude toward Nina grows alongside Nina’s parallel plotting and manipulation. Nina is always in a position of power and generosity, putting Emma into situations that make her feel self-conscious and helpless but grateful.

I LOVE Lane’s writing. Love it. The little details she peppers in that beautifully convey motherhood and women’s friendship. Her observations about modern life: “Looking through Emma’s collection, I’m struck by how little these pictures have in common with the photographs people take now, the casual why-not off-the-cuff snaps of people yawning or laughing or mucking around. Emma’s parents saved their film for shots that stood a good chance and that mattered. The times when the light was right and people were still and formal, conscious of the moment, already colluding in its artifice.” I couldn’t get enough of Her. I couldn’t wait to finish and find out what Emma had done that deserved Nina’s cruel treatment and how she would eventually uncover Nina’s true motives.

The last 10 percent: Extreme disappointment.

At the end, Lane finally reveals why Nina was so angry at Emma, and it was a major letdown. I found it totally implausible that Emma’s actions, which were basically unwitting, would have set Nina off so many years later. I wonder if Lane got to the end of her story, realized she had no idea what had propelled it, and found a hasty candidate in a thin – borderline laughable – motive.

Or maybe it was intentional. At one point toward the end, Nina is thinking about a thriller that another character is reading: “I don’t say that I’ve read it and enjoyed it, though I found the final plot twist unsatisfying, as plot twists often are: nothing like life, which – it seems to me – turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings, or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Perhaps that was Lane’s point – Nina didn’t need a huge, dramatic transgression to justify her actions; a simple disappointment was enough. I’d love to know.

Overall, I was so disappointed by the ending of Her that I almost regretted reading it, but in the end, Lane’s beautiful writing justified the hours I spent on it.