I received this book, pre-release through NetGalley, and it’s my first NetGalley book where I’ve been more disappointed than pleased, and I kind of hate to have to write this review (and have been putting it off till I could think of some nice things to say).
The premise of the book is compelling – a box full of dirty text messages and emails gets sent from a man’s mistress to his wife, but winds up in the hands of his children instead. Once their daughter opens the box, she becomes the family’s own Pandora, and untold horrors spill out, and everything in their world seems to shift.
I thought the author did a great job of making the reader feel as unsteady as the characters – shifting points of view, time frames, perspectives, voices, even tenses in a seemingly random manner. And she also captured the kids’ perspectives in a way that felt true and real – the teenage son’s lashing out at both his mom and his dad, wanting everyone to know and no one to know at the same time. The younger daughter feeling like nothing was safe now, now that she knew, using words she didn’t understand to write fan-fiction she didn’t understand, to get the words she had read about her father – her father – out of her brain.
The parts I hated all revolved around the main male character – Jack. This father/husband/adulterer was not completely unlovable (although I didn’t much like him, at least there were things that made his family like him, now and again), but had such a general air of entitlement and expectation about him that I mostly wanted to punch him in the face. How he could keep talking about how badly he felt as the things he had done came back to tear his family apart will remain a constant mystery to me. Unfortunately, Jack probably suffers from being a character I have read before – think so many so-called-classics that it makes you want to puke – as well as a human being (albeit a composite of a few different ones) I have had the misfortune of actually knowing in real life before.
Men – people – like this exist: people who think of themselves first, at the expense of their families, their livelihoods, their friendships. People who don’t see past this particular moment of thrill into the future of hurt that awaits. I’m an anxious person – I’m always seeing disaster 13 steps ahead of where I am, even when there’s none to be found, and that’s not a great way to live, all the time, but I think I prefer that than not being able to see past my own immediate wants to the explosion of consequences giving into them might create.
“It’s not like I killed anybody. That was it. Jack did not really, in the end, believe he’d done anything so wrong. … Deb would need time and patience to forgive him, but here, alone with his tools, he could feel he was forgiving himself already.”
Yes, Jack: I really do not like you. I realize the author did not want me to like you, but that may have backfired a bit, given the tone this review has taken. I also could’ve kicked the mistress in the face, for being stupid enough to send the package in the first place, and for writing things like “Did I care about you, your children? Did I care about my work? Ask me if I cared. If I care, even.” and thinking it was OK to send them out into the world like bullets that wouldn’t actually hit anything.
And I think, given the way the book is set up, and the care the author took to craft these personalities, what disappointed me the most was Deb, the wife/mother/betrayed woman. It wasn’t that she wasn’t relate-able – her indecisiveness in the wake of the scandal, her obsessive thoughts about what the mistress wrote, her need to take the kids and just get away – all of those were right on target, I felt. But for some reason, she wasn’t as real as the other characters, she felt like a storefront you’d see on TV – you could see all the right elements, but there was nothing behind them.
So, since I hated the male main character, and couldn’t connect to the female main character, I basically wanted to abscond with the well-written children and the loveable grandma, and leave the abysmal story behind. That’s a hard thing to give stars to, but I’m going 2- 2.5, since most of the stuff I didn’t like seemed like it was crafted that way, and the authenticity of the kids made me willing to finish the story.