My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book at the same time I was annoyed with it.
Bookshelves: psych-thriller, trendy, mystery, noir, unreliable-narrator, mfa-style, hot-off-the-press, popcorn-reading, purple-prose
It gets points for not being touted as “the next Gone Girl!” or compared to Gillian Flynn anywhere on the cover. There’s still a trend, though–the narrator who witnesses a terrible crime, but no one believes her because she’s unreliable, and she’s unreliable because she’s mentally ill or a drunk or a pillhead or some combination, and she is styled in the book title as the girl/woman/wife/sister/daughter. Of course you’ve seen these books; they’re everywhere. I’m surprised I even picked it up. Not disappointed, because I actually did like it, but surprised that I picked up a bandwagon book. (I guiltily admit to reading the Twilight books, but only where no one could see me doing it, and I will no longer read anything about vampires not written by Anne Rice. And maybe Stephen King.)
I have a few gripes. The writing is what I’ve seen others call “MFA-Style” and I’m totally stealing it. That flowery, uber-descriptive way of writing each and every moment and emotion and impression and insight that I imagine must be the mainstay of modern writing curricula: “Help,” I shout, only it’s a whisper, creeping through my throat on tiptoe, smearing itself across my tongue. “He-elp,” I try again; this time my teeth bite into it, sparks raining from my mouth as though I’ve chewed a live wire, and my voice catches like a fuse, explodes. (I’m an Elmore Leonard girl: “He-elp,” I croak. I try again: “Help.” Better.) And it seems there wasn’t a single page when Anna wasn’t craving wine, pouring wine, sipping wine, chugging wine, sloshing wine, spilling wine, dropping her wine and shattering the glass, fuddled from wine, trying to remember if this her fifth or seventeenth glass of wine, hungover from wine, opening more wine, swallowing multiple sleeping pills with wine. It wore thin. She stumbles or sinks or slumps or falls to her knees a lot, too–and no wonder, with all that wine–which I cannot recall ever seeing anyone do even once in real life. Between the beating her knees take and all the wine, I’m amazed Anna doesn’t break her neck navigating the endless flights of stairs in her (admittedly charming) gentrified-Harlem five-storey brownstone.
But. A lot of people like that writing style and if you do, good on ya. I don’t hate it; it’s just not my favorite. And even if the premise is rather derivative, the story is still a suck-you-in popcorn-type psych-thriller page-turner, on a par with The Girl on the Train (which I see I never reviewed, but loved) and easily outstripping The Woman in Cabin 10. I find the unreliable narrator hard to resist and Anna’s obsession with film noir darkens the atmosphere nicely. I saw through both of the prestiges well in advance of the reveals but still devoured it in about 24 hours, even with time out for beauty zzz’s and a full workday. It loses a star for being an obvious bandwagon book but is still worth reading, particularly recommended if you’ve got long flights and a layover to deal with.
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