All month I have searched for a “perfect” horror novel, something to match the energy of “spooky season”. I read several thrillers, but nothing that really fit the bill. And then, on Monday, real life horror intervened and now I need to put the horror novel aside – I’m hoping to find some books that are more comforting, scares are the last thing I want. I’m a teacher in St. Louis, and not two miles from my house something horrific happened and I am still shaken up about it. My cousin’s two children were in that building. 18 former students from my school were in that building. 40 or more community members had a sibling, cousin, parent or friend in that building. The ripple effects of an event like this are massive – you can imagine the horror and fear, but when it happens in your backyard you feel it differently. That we cannot protect school children – that teachers must be prepared to be a shield, inadequate though our bodies may be – that is the real horror. Weapons of war don’t belong in schools (or parades, or malls, or movie theaters, or concerts, or ….). Our state can’t even agree to FEED school children without cost to families, how can we expect them to find funding to provide for their mental health?
Anyway. I plodded through The Silent Patient. I won’t spoil it but I figured out what was going on sort of early, I think because I’ve read a few other thrillers this month and just sort of picked up on the cadence – you know there’s going to be a surprise, and it’s not too difficult to figure out what it will be. Maybe, at another time, independent of other things in life and other books recently read, this would have been a fun book to read. For me, right now, I just felt frustrated (why would a psychotherapist act like a detective? Why is he given all this access – he seems entirely mediocre at everything to me and yet professionally he’s lauded, make it make sense).
An artist, Alicia, stands accused of killing her husband, but after the event she has been entirely silent – this combined with previous mental health issues means she gets committed to an institution rather than jail time. A new therapist arrives and sets a goal to get her to speak. The story is told from his perspective, alternating between his sessions at the institution and his brewing trouble at home with his vivacious wife, Kathy. Interspersed are also diary entries from Alicia, and plenty of red herrings in the form of creepy cousins, lawyers, gallery owners, and hints doled out from drunk and/or jealous women. It’s fine, this book is fine, you just have to ignore the fact that none of these characters are acting like real people.
I’m not being fair to this book, or any book right now. Don’t forget to vote, but also – don’t forget that we don’t have to live this way. We don’t have to be terrorized by the chance of dying by guns just because we want to do something perfectly ordinary. I don’t know what the answer is but I think we ought to be fighting a lot harder to find it.