Do yourself a favor and skip this book.
*SPOILERS AHEAD. SO MANY SPOILERS.*
Having started editing books, I read them differently now. This book started off with one of my least favorite things: a description dump. One of the main characters is sad about her body after baby, and she’s looking at her neighbor’s body and describing her large breasts, nipped in waist, etc. We don’t need to know all that. It doesn’t matter what the neighbor looks like at all. What matters is how the main character (Anne) feels about herself next to the neighbor.
Anne and her husband (Marco) head home after the dinner party to find their front door is open. This matters because to attend the dinner party next door, they’ve left their 6-month old baby at home, alone. They went every half-hour to check on her and had the baby monitor with them. This is when they discover the baby is missing. Her husband pushes her on how much she’s had to drink and suggests that maybe she did it open after all. This is pretty much a non-issue since we know the last person to be in the house is Marco.
The point of view for the story is a mess. The author chose third-party omniscient: The reader knows what everyone is thinking and what everyone has done. When Anne and Marco first discover their baby is missing, she makes it seem like both parents have no idea what’s going on. The problem with this is that several chapters later, Marco reveals that he is the one who orchestrated the kidnapping. Well, the reader should have known that from the beginning.
Let’s talk about all the different things the author tries to have going on:
- Marco arranges for the kidnapping of the baby to get money from the in-laws who hate him because his business is failing.
- Anne has a history of mental illness, though her husband only knows about the post-partum depression. In fact, she has a history of blackouts, and sometimes gets violent during those blackouts. (In high school she slammed a classmate against the wall because the classmate was making fun of her.) These blackouts are believed to occur because she dissociated when she, at 4 years old, watched her father die of a heart attack.
- The next door neighbor, Cynthia, comes on to Marco during the dinner party. It turns out, that Cynthia’s husband, Graham, likes to watch Cynthia have sex with other men. That’s why they find out that Marco is the one who aids in the kidnapping of his own child – there’s a videocamera aimed at the back deck where Cynthia apparently regularly has sex with other men. The camera catches Marco with the baby going into the garage and coming out without her. What’s interesting about this is that there are houses across the lane that can see what happens there.
- Richard (Anne’s stepfather) is a nasty old man who likes to exert control over everything especially when it comes to money (that comes from his wife’s family, not from his earnings). We find out that he’s having an affair with Cynthia and wants to leave Anne’s mother for her. But, he needs money to do it, because his business is failing too, so he orchestrates the kidnapping so he can get his wife’s money. He sends his “fixer” to become friendly with Marco and eventually suggests that Marco kidnap his baby to get money from his awful in-laws. Of course, the fixer double-crosses Marco. Richard then kills the fixer, takes the baby and all the money. He’s the hero who gets the baby back after staging another ransom request.
- About three-quarters of the way into the book, Anne becomes convinced that she must have killed her baby since she can’t remember what happened during the 11pm feeding. She knows that she’s slapped her daughter in the past when she’s been fussy, so she believes she’s capable of killing her too. She convinces herself that Marco is covering for her by arranging to have the baby taken away during his check on her. Anne takes herself to the police station to confess this. The detective suspects this at first, but as he gets the facts, he knows this version of events isn’t possible.
- The book ends with Anne going to Cynthia’s to see how much she knew about the kidnapping, since Anne now knows that Cynthia has been having an affair with her father. Cynthia denies it, and gets nasty enough to say that if she had been involved, she would have killed the baby instead of kidnapping it. The next thing we know is that there are police cars and sirens, and Anne is sitting in her own living room, covered in blood, and holding a knife. I was curious how the police got called since Cynthia’s husband is out of town. Anne claims she has no idea what happened.
Combining this many stories into one is challenging for a skilled, experienced author, let alone for someone’s debut novel. In trying to do too much at once, it feels like nothing is done well. So much of what happens seems irrelevant, underdeveloped, too obvious, or just boring. None of the characters are likable. There’s nothing that keeps you attached to any of the characters; you’re not cheering for any of them.
You also have to wonder why everything is hunky-dory when they get Cora back. Richard gets arrested for his part in the kidnapping and the murder of his fixer, and Marco and Anne go home with their baby. Why in the world would Marco be okay with Anne and the baby, after Anne admits to slapping her? He’s just so relieved he isn’t going to prison? Which is also amazing – there’s no way in the real world you can kidnap a kid, even your own, and walk away from that without a conviction.
It is an easy read; I was able to finish in about 4 or so hours. I read it for a book club, which is probably the only reason I finished it at all. Otherwise I probably would have stopped at the second chapter. I am genuinely confused how this book ended up at the top of any bestseller lists.
If you can skip this one, do it. It’s not at all worth the read.