So I really got into Freida McFadden’s thrillers for a while there. I liked the first one I read and reviewed a lot, so I went on a bit of a binge. After a few, I realized that they were suspenseful potato chips more than anything else, with the writing being so-so. I didn’t care, I love a cheap thrill. Sometimes you just want a ride, even if it’s in an old Yugo.
But with One by One, I have come to the end of the line. I’m sick of the same white, suburban, upper middle class milieu. The characterizations are shallow. The relationships between men and women are cookie-cutter homages to Lifetime movies (no disrespect). McFadden knows how to write a good twist, but that’s not enough for me to give a book a strong review. The whole package has to be satisfying.
In One by One, three couples go away on a week-long vacation to an inn situated in the wilderness. One couple hates each other and fights constantly, one couple has a “frigid” business woman with her amenable sexy spouse who is having an affair with the first couple’s wife, and one couple is a movie-star looking pair consisting of a controlling a-hole and a giggling stereotyped beauty with a perfect body. In short order, their road trip to the vacation spot goes awry and they are lost in the woods, one of them dead.
The story is mostly told from the perspective of Claire, the woman having an affair with her husband’s best friend. Interspersed are brief chapters from the perspective of an anonymous character, who predicts only one person from the trip will be left alive at the end. Their chapters are mostly flashbacks to a bleak childhood with an abusive mother.
While the book starts off with the interesting “only one of us will survive” set up, it’s just so poorly done with such annoying characters that you’re glad they are being whittled down. Even for a quick thriller, the characterizations are paper-thin. The dialogue isn’t well done. The suspense is inert and flaccid. I couldn’t quite figure out why there was so little momentum—the plot of them lost in the woods with a secret killer among them would seem to naturally keep the tension up, but this very short book dragged. Not a single character was likeable, which isn’t necessarily required, but when you are in a claustrophobic set-up with characters disappearing, the reader does usually want to have someone to root for/care about.
Case in point about even protagonist Claire’s unlikability. In the middle of characters dying and disappearing, Claire has time to ogle her dead friend’s boyfriend:
“After that declaration, he rips his T-shirt off entirely, peeling it from his sweaty chest. And…
I take back what I said about the Sears catalog. Any catalog would be happy to have this guy on their cover page. He is ripped. And tan. You could sort of tell when he had his shirt on, but with it off, nothing is left to the imagination. I think there might be a little drool coming out of the corner of my mouth.
Lindsay is a lucky girl.
Was. Was lucky.”
What kind of psycho slavers over her best friend’s boyfriend, while that friend is dead and left behind in the woods?
While there were a few twists at the end, they were convoluted versus clever. I just felt grouchy at the end. I guess this is the end of my snack-binge. It was fairly fun while it lasted!