WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the novel. Reader discretion is advised.
Amazon summary: Young Saffyre Maddox spent three years under the care of renowned child psychologist Roan Fours. When Dr. Fours decides their sessions should end, Saffyre feels abandoned. She begins looking for ways to connect with him, from waiting outside his office to walking through his neighborhood late at night. She soon learns more than she ever wanted to about Roan and his deceptively perfect family life. On a chilly Valentine’s night, Saffyre will disappear, taking any secrets she has learned with her.
This is my first Lisa Jewell novel and I’m reminded a lot of Ruth Ware.
Both writers have a knack for thwarting your expectations and keeping you hanging on the edge of your seat for the next bombshell to drop. More importantly, they give you interesting and complex characters that keep you engaged throughout the whole ordeal.
This novel was excellently paced, twisty, and binge-worthy.
There are some issues with overly expository dialogue but admittedly nothing that would stop a reader from enjoying the experience.
……….So what went wrong?
I am not being hyperbolic when I say the ending nearly ruined the entire novel for me.
I’m not an edgy nihilist that thinks all happy endings undermine good storytelling, but the way that everything was tied up with a nice little bow did not sit well with me.
I wanted a happy ending for Owen. I was glad that he was able to get his job back at university and that he managed to couple with the woman that he had such a strong connection with.
However, it’s….total bullshit.
There is absolutely no way a school would allow someone that had their face plastered all over the news on accusations of rape and murder to come back to work for them.
I also find it difficult to believe the woman he has one date with at the beginning of the book would choose to give their relationship another go. No, he wasn’t guilty, but all the negative attention she would receive from friends, family members, and her peers for pursing a relationship with Owen would test even the strongest of courtships. I doubt it could survive a newly formed one.
What makes this worse is that Owen’s experience is treated as if it is just something he has to go through in order to grow as a person. As if being falsely accused of sexual assault and murder is meant to be like a character-building exercise rather than a life-ruining event. Oh, if he had only read the pamphlets on women and the work place!
Don’t get me wrong, there are some slippery creatures out there who are able to overcome their checkered pasts either through monetary incentives or social eloquence, but these people aren’t of the same pedigree as Owen. Owen doesn’t have millions of dollars to bribe people, or the social skills to worm his way back into polite society. For people like Owen, once the stain has set in, it’s impossible to wash out.
I’m disappointed because I truly thought Jewell was onto something.
I thought this book was going to be an exploration of how we have a general disdain for people who struggle socially and cast them as villains in order to feel vindicated for our revulsion. Perhaps—more controversially— we could have discussed how there is a pervasive belief among modern women that every strange man they encounter is a secret rapist and wants to harm them, as evidenced by Owen’s interaction with a woman on the street that nearly calls the cops on him for literally no reason at all.
Instead all the woe that befalls Owen is entirely his fault.
That seems to be the message of this book: Men are all responsible for their actions and how society perceives them, but women should not be held accountable for their overreactions or poor decisions.
I won’t say that there aren’t things Owen could have learned from his experience, but the fact that he is converted from an awkward turtle into a lady’s man through the healing power of corporate-sponsored gender classes is total bullshit.
If anything, you would think this whole fiasco would have taught him that women are more trouble than they are worth and he should lock himself away where people can’t hurt him anymore.
Then there is Alicia’s ending.
For some reason I cannot possibly fathom, Alicia– Roan’s mistress–is portrayed as the good guy in the end.
The woman who had an affair with a man who is married with two kids, is a character we are meant to feel sorry for.
Yes, she provides Saffyre with shelter from a dangerous man, but she’s still a terrible person at the end of the day.
The author makes it a point to highlight the fact that Alicia is much younger than Roan….but she’s still 29 years-old. She’s not exactly a babe in arms. She is an adult with complete autonomy and awareness of her actions.
She is not some love-struck patient that Roan grooms into falling madly in love with him either. They are professional equals that decide to embark on a sordid affair with one another, totally aware of the other’s situation. She knows he is married with children and yet she continues to have a sexual relationship with him regardless.
Yet we are supposed to root for her because….vagina, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong, Roan is a total douchebag and he shouldn’t be excused for kicking the crap out of her, but give me a break.
Why should Alicia get a pass for her crappy behavior when she is just as culpable as Roan?
To make things worse, she’s still practicing counseling. This basket-case threatened to kill herself unless some dude left his wife for her. She is batshit insane and we’re supposed to be glad she is around young, damaged minds. That’s like the blind-leading-the-blind through a mine field. She has no business being in this profession if she is that emotionally unstable.
Admittedly, I didn’t like the twist that the serial rapist was the same guy that abused Saffyre either. What are the odds that the guy that hurt her is the same one out to prowl on other woman years later like some rapey Jack the Ripper? It made the world too small and the story too contrived.
I much preferred when it looked as though Cate and Roan’s son was the real perpetrator. It fit into the whole appearances-are-deceiving angle I thought the story was going for. Perhaps that’s my own fault for falling for red herrings, but…I just don’t buy his whole Momma’s Boy routine. He is just too perfect and I think Cate’s adulation of him borders on creepy.
In the end, the rapist being Cate’s son makes way more sense and is less convoluted. It fits into the story overall and doesn’t require a bunch of coincidences to make it work.
I know this next point will be a bit divisive, but I think Saffyre should have been killed. I don’t have anything against her, I just think her surviving this whole ordeal was a bit too sanguine. It goes back to my earlier complaint about everything being tied up with a neat little bow. All the bad people were punished and all the good people triumphed. It’s a nice thought but it played with my suspension of disbelief.
Oh, I survived by crashing at some stranger’s pad and everything is fine!
I hate saying all these negative things about this book because I really did enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, it sort of wet the bed at the end and undid a lot of the good will I had towards it going in.
There’s always next time.