Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Most Disorienting Read

The cat under the front porch was at it again. Scratching at the slab of wood that echoes through the hardwood floors of my bedroom. Sharpening its claws, marking its territory—relentless in the dead of night.

That is how The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda,
today’s recommended summer-reading-super-suspense-novel begins. This story, with its many facets, its many faces, was immensely satisfying. First, there are the two friends (Leah and Emmy) who move to a new town and decide to room together. Then, there is the reason Leah is here in the first place (What was that horrible thing that happened in her old job?). Then, there is the colleague who Leah is sure is harassing her. And more. There is much more which is revealed as the story unfolds slowly.

In a nutshell, Leah had to leave Boston and her career as journalist after an article she wrote goes horribly wrong. She calls on an old friend Emmy, to come be her roommate in a rural Pennsylvania town where she has secured a teaching job. She needs someone to help her get her life back from that horrendous experience, and what better person than her strange friend, Emmy?

Here is where the whole thing gets disorienting in a way that makes you stop, blink, and shake your head as you read it. A woman who looks a lot like Leah is assaulted and left for dead down by the river. Shortly after, her roommate Emmy disappears. Leah and police investigator Kyle become close, as he helps her unravel what happened. It's all pretty straightforward. Or is it?

A large part of the novel becomes a case of, who do you believe? Even Kyle has doubts. He wants to believe her, but who is this supposedly good friend Emmy? There is no record of her anywhere—in any police data base that Kyle can locate. Emmy didn’t even have a cell phone. What young woman doesn’t carry a cell phone these days?

Why was Leah forced to leave her previous employment? Why is she accusing a fellow teacher of harassing her? Is Leah the problem? What’s with her former best friend and boyfriend? Why the restraining order? All of these questions are answered very, very slowly, very deliciously as the story progresses.

The unfolding of the story is almost disorienting. It got to the point that I would have to stop, think. WHAT did I just read? What is happening? No spoilers here, but the book is a very satisfying summer read.

Also—and this is important to me—the writing is excellent. Here are a few examples:

And then Emmy came along while I was this stripped away version of a person. So was it strange that I felt her in my skin? She was there when it re-formed. She existed inside the sharper edges I erected.

And, you can almost feel this version of winter:

The chapped lips, the red noses, the dry skin around our knuckles, and the way the sweaters itch across our collarbones. How you want nothing more than to stay in. The things you do to stay warm.

I began this blog with the first lines of The Perfect Stranger, the lines after which, I knew I would enjoy this book.

If you are a reader of I Like It, you know that first lines matter to me. First lines draw me in. First chapters draw me in. Just out of curiosity and because I’m a writer myself, I Googled “How not to begin a story.” The first thing that popped up was this Writer’s Digest article.

It suggests not beginning with a dream, an alarm clock buzzing, too little dialogue, or opening with dialogue. Pretty good advice, I would say. I Googled further to read that a whole lot of literary agents and writing instructors suggest not using a prologue. Hmm. The Perfect Stranger begins with a prologue. 

As a writer, I sort of pay attention to this advice, but as a reader it flits off me like fine fine feathers in the wind. If the word “prologue” disgruntles you, just put a sticky note over the word “Prologue” and pretend it’s "Chapter One," and then proceed.

So yes, put this book high on your summer reading list.

Next time: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

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