Friday, March 9, 2018

The Perfect Stranger -- Review

Recently, I had a few long drives lined up so I picked an audiobook. The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. It had a bit of a rocky start, but once it got me hooked, I was really hooked. The book handles a lot of things that I'd like to see more of. Leah Stevens' main issue through the entire book is that no one believes a thing she says. The catalyst that sets everything in motion is a story she didn't tell. The thing she thought no one would be believe - and as her fraught relationships with the police, her coworkers, and even her students play out, it's like a running commentary on why she was right to lie.

Without getting into spoilers it's difficult to describe the nuance with which Miranda handles questions of trust and female friendship. Each person Leah interacts with, from her mother to her coworker across the hall seems to represent a different type of friendship, a different level of trust. As she discovers how long she's been lied to, how hard she's been screwed over, she still has to contend with the fact that most people think it's more believable that a woman is losing her mind than that something bad happened to her.

One thing the book doesn't do is give a nice redemption arc. Three of the major players in the story are starting over after something bad has happened in their lives, and one is dealing with the immediate aftermath of a life changing tragedy. Questions are raised about the parts each of them played in screwing their own lives, and the lives of other's up. But this book isn't about any of those characters fixing their shit. It's not an ending where everyone gets their name cleared and their old jobs back. I think that really works for the story. Miranda sets up a very realistic world, where people are afraid of not being believed, afraid to come forward, afraid to move on. A world without easy answers.

There is a resolution, and a good one, but it's not a Hollywood happy ending. I won't ruin it, but Miranda seems to be interested in how people choose and accept their fates, rather than how people triumph over old mistakes.

It took several drives and a few laundry folding sessions to get through the audiobook and get to the end. I found myself turning to the audiobook the way I often turn to paper books - eager to hear what happens next, in a way I don't often find with audio. There are moments in the story that frustrate - people making nonsensical decisions, red herrings that aren't dismissed in a satisfactory way - but it works in a story where the characters actually behave like real people.

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