Literally. I have done what I set out to do, and have read every book by Jennifer McMahon.
I regret nothing.
Her books are compelling. And when I use that word I actually mean that there is something highly, almost physically, addictive in the pages. It’s that kind of compelling. Like, withdrawal symptoms when you put the book down. Like, you have to force yourself to wait to read. And then when you start reading again you can’t stop even when you know you should. You read before you go to bed, and then you itch to pick the book up again first thing in the morning even though you know you have to feed the cats and make the coffee.
Then you feel kind of sick afterward. Because these are twisted, disturbing, scary books. Don’t think that means horror, though. They’re firmly in the Not-Quite-Horror category. Think Gillian Flynn or V.C. Andrews. You don’t scream while you’re reading. Oh no. You go, “Ewughew! No!” Or similar. After that you say, “Wow, what a twist!!”
Of course, that could just be me.
Each of her books follows a similar formula. There are multiple points of view, for one. I think that’s one reason why I like her story construction so much. I’m a big fan of the Hitchcockian “bomb under the table” kind of suspense, and McMahon is very very good at it. Each character has their own secrets, their own suspense story, inside the larger framework where all of their story threads connect. Part of the fun, if you’re a reader like me, is trying to call the twist. Like a good mystery writer, McMahon offers you what you need to figure things out. But like a good thriller writer, she plays a few cards close until exactly the right time. It’s a great combination!
Each book is also about secrets. Long-buried, creepy secrets, sometimes with a supernatural bent. V.C. Andrews-level secrets, if you know what I mean. There’s usually an older female protagonist, and then a younger one. The relationship between different generations of women, whether related or not, play a lot into the emotional arcs of her stories.
McMahon is based in Vermont, and it’s usually the setting for her books. The state is almost a character, just like the way Stephen King writes about Maine. In some ways, McMahon is quite similar to King. The compelling storytelling, for one. But also the admirable ability to create menace in everyday situations. McMahon, like King, can build a chilling atmosphere around you in such a way that you’re almost not aware it’s happening. Until, of course, the threats begin to mount. In my blog post about The Winter People, I called that particular story a more subdued and emotionally-centered cousin to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. In some ways, it holds true for her general style, as well.
And her imagery. Oh, the imagery. So simple, and yet so very frightening. She’s a dab hand at describing ghosts in a simple, effective way. And at setting a creepy scene in two sentences or less.
You can go into each Jennifer McMahon novel expecting all of the above. And yet, it’s fresh every time, with new secrets, new spins, new atmospheres and relationships. It’s just enough of that familiar taste you’re addicted to to keep you coming back.
I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that Jennifer McMahon is now on my list of favorite writers, and I eagerly await her next novel. You can find a complete list of her books at her website, http://jennifer-mcmahon.com/.
McMahon is a perfect readalike choice for Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters, Kate Morton, V.C. Andrews, Sheri Reynolds, and John Harwood. If you like any of those writers, try Jennifer McMahon. And if you like Jennifer McMahon, try all of those writers!
My only regret is that I’m all done with her work. And Sarah Waters’ new novel doesn’t come out until September! I guess I’ll just go re-read Sharp Objects and Fingersmith all summer.