“Love is as close to hate when it comes to sisters. You’re as close as two humans can be. You came from the same womb. The same background. Even if you’re poles apart, mentally. That’s why it hurts so much when your sister is unkind. It’s as though a part of you is turning against yourself.” (315)
The highly acclaimed author of MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is back with a new psychological thriller. And this one examines a different relationship than the last. Sisters instead of misters.
Title is linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead:
The last day of school in a small seaside town in England, three girls head off to school. Two will be featured in a last-day concert. The eldest will receive special recognition for her academic achievements. But first, they must cross the busy road.
But they never get to school that day. An accident changes everything. One dies. One is in a coma with traumatic brain injury. And the oldest feels somehow responsible.
Fifteen years later, Allison is a part-time art teacher at the local college. Not surprisingly, she is just squeaking by.
Her life is dismal. No friends. No man. Crappy job. Just the occasional phone call from her mum. Usually about her sister.
Now a grown, youngish woman, Kitty resides in an institutional “home.” She’s confined a wheelchair and must wear a helmet. She is nonverbal, bangs on her chair, and drools. And while she cannot verbalize words, we are given a third-person point-of-view into her world through chapters alternating with the first-person narration of older sister Ali/Allison.
Level-headed, sensible Allison. Big sister. Daughter. Single woman.
So when Mum’s second husband goes AWOL, Allison must step up and help her mother pay for Kitty’s care. To make ends meet, Allison takes a second part-time job–this one teaching art in a local minimum security men’s prison. Because her life couldn’t get any more dismal, eh?
I had been looking forward to the publication of this book and put myself on a waiting list for it–I got it in early February and read it immediately.
I definitely loved the premise from the get-go. And I do enjoy a good British psychological thriller. Plus, any woman who is a sister to another sister can empathize and cheer for a character who finds herself in Allison’s position. Or even Kitty’s.
But I couldn’t.
This book, while it has much to admire, it seems to suffer from structural issues that jar the reader from suspending disbelief over and over again.
The actual inciting incident that should kick off the action, doesn’t appear until about one-hundred pages in. Until that dramatic situation occurs, we don’t understand the dishrag that is Allison. We don’t understand her internal motivation, so we don’t understand her actions.
Don’t get me wrong. I love an unreliable narrator. And Allison is unreliable as hell. But without having a proper understanding of Allison’s inner demons from the beginning of the story, there are glaring holes for the reader. Holes that are magnified by contrived, wild coincidences.
Sure, we understand the sibling rivalry between the two sisters–especially since they each have a different father, but come on. I needed more to help me suspend my disbelief.
Many of the plot events are thrown at the reader in a willy-nilly manner rather than developed and foreshadowed.
Others are illogical. When certain events conspire against and happen to Allison, the responses of authority figures are illogical.
So too when the writer needs Allison to come into close contact with a significant figure from her past.
I rarely find myself muttering, “Yeah right” or “That would never happen” when reading a solid psychological thriller, but I found myself saying it time and time again.
Also jarring and contrived, the appearance at the end of a deus ex machina which translates god from the machine. It’s a plot device used to resolve a situation that is beyond hopeless–it is external to the character and has nothing to do with her inner journey.
Which in the case of this book–we’re never really sure what Allison’s inner journey is–until maybe the last quarter of the book when we surmise it is absolution from guilt. Maybe. Oh, and for the aspiring writers out there, deus ex machina not something to emulate. It’s often employed when the writer has written himself into a corner.
Jane Corry captures the world of special needs adults with a keen eye. She even gets us to pull for Allison here and there. But, overall, this follow-up novel to her breakout novel, MY HUSBAND’S WIFE, would have benefited from a complete rewrite.
I will likely check out her first book. And maybe her next one.
Foxy Writer Scale: Two out of Five Foxes
Thanks for reading!
Susan J. Anderson
Foxy Writer Chick