Not-So-Horrific Halloween Read: “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn

woman in the window

If you’re the type who likes to curl up with a twisty, suspenseful Hitchcock flick on Halloween, here’s a novel you should try!

Anna Fox lives as a recluse in her New York City home.  She spends most of her time watching Hitchcock movies, drinking, and spying on her neighbors.  Then one night she thinks she witnesses a murder in the house across the street.  From there it’s a downward spiral into trying to decide what’s real and what isn’t, who’s lying, and what Anna actually saw that night.

Anna isn’t very likeable, nor is she very reliable, but she’s compelling to read about.  The Woman in the Window is a page-turner of a thriller, with quite elegant writing and an absorbing narrative voice.  The twists and turns and reveals of the book are a slow build, and there’s a constant air of uncertainty and menace as events unfold.

The references to Hitchcock movies and other thriller/film noir pieces abound, and the book really does have the feel of a black and white psychological suspense film.  Perfect for unsettling you on a Halloween night!

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Marie’s Reading: “The Flood Girls” by Richard Fifield

Flood GirlsSometimes you need a novel that makes you snort with laughter every page or so.  One with a great sense of place, good characters, and enough weirdness, softball games, and drunken brawls to keep you engaged. The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield fits the bill.

Rachel Flood returns to her hometown in Montana as part of her “making amends” step in Alcoholics Anonymous.   The locals don’t exactly welcome her back, including her own mother.  The story follows Rachel’s attempts to mend fences, as well as the ups and downs of the characters in her periphery–Jake, the gay boy next door, and her mother, Laverna.

The pace is leisurely and the characters are quirky and fun.  Everyone drinks and fights and swears, but there are great steady friendships here, too.  Broken and downtrodden and dysfunctional as they are, the people of Quinn rely on each other and make spaces for themselves.  Hardly anyone is really alone in The Flood Girls.  Like the titular softball team, these characters come together and make it work.  Mostly.

Mostly, because the story takes a very dark and surprising turn very close to the end.  I can only speak for myself, but I found it jarring compared to the rest of the book–so much so that I ended up skimming the remainder of the story.  Your mileage, of course, may vary. But the rest of the book is so engaging, funny, and heartwarming in a totally bizarre way that it’s worth a read.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore might have more sea monsters named Steve than The Flood Girls does, but in lots of other ways they’re quite similar–quirky characters in a small town, their lives and relationships, poignancy in the oddest places, and lots of humor.  Mavis, the bar owner in Pine Cove has a lot in common with Laverna, actually.

This book also made me think of Joshilyn Jackson, particularly A Grown-Up Kind of Prettyabout a girl’s search for her mother and the strained relationships between three generations of women, told from all three perspectives.  The exploration of relationships in all their not-so-great glory, the strong women, as well as the sense of place, might appeal to those who liked The Flood Girls.  You might also enjoy The Good House by Ann Leary, if you enjoy Rachel and Laverna in this book, and the way alcoholism is handled with dark humor.  The small-town feel is good in that one as well.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Good House” by Ann Leary

good houseHildy Good is one of the top real estate brokers in her small town in Massachusetts.  She’s a respected businesswoman, and her family has lived in town for generations.  She’s even descended from one of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, a fact she plays up when showing new folks around town hoping to sell a house.

Hildy is also an alcoholic in recovery, though lately the definition of “recovery” has begun to slip for her.  Though she’ll be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some wine of an evening.  The story of Ann Leary’s The Good House involves Hildy becoming friends with a new woman in town, Rebecca, at the same time that she rekindles a relationship with a man she’s known for years.

The Good House is a dark piece of domestic character-centered fiction.  And it’s not a leisurely story.  There’s lots of drama and it’s very quick-paced.  But Hildy is just so compelling it’s hard to break away.  The descriptive, evocative writing helps to make you feel a connection to Hildy.  The first-person narration helps the connection as well, creating a character that feels real and truthful and sometimes pitiable and unlikable.

At its core this is a story of a woman working through alcoholism, her own angry, private struggle.  She’s lugging around a lot of baggage, and we’re witness to all of her cringe-worthy drunken episodes.  At least, those she can remember.  It’s due to Hildy’s alcoholism that the story takes its dark turn toward the end.

The Good House is also a story of a small New England town, and the way they are changing.  Many people in this area will recognize the gentrification of a beautiful coastal community, and the way townies whose families have lived somewhere for hundreds of years can no longer afford to live in their hometowns.  Hildy’s being a real estate agent was a good choice, in that it lends this extra dimension to the story.  Even though she’s a bred townie, she still cheerfully and competitively sells houses to rich people from away.  There’s a wonderful sense of place and community (both good and bad) in this novel.

Readalike possibilities: Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh, though darker and with more of a mystery element, might still appeal to those who enjoyed the darker side of The Good House.  It also shares the small-town New England setting. Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs might be a good choice, both for the narrator’s anger, unreliability, and the high drama. Last, Paula Hawkins’   The Girl on the Train could also work, particularly Rachel’s storyline.  There’s more violence and thriller aspects in that one, but it’s still very character- and relationship-centered.

–Marie

 

Marie’s Reading: “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

Girl-on-the-TrainWithin the first few pages of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, we learn that our primary narrator regularly gets drunk on the train and has made up names and life stories for a couple whose house she watches out the window at a regular stop.

Yes, I thought to myself.  Totally off her nut.  This is going to be a great story!  Yes!

I wasn’t wrong.

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