Read Remark Book Review - A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena

Book Review: A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena
Published August 2017
Pamela Dorman Books

One-sentence summary:
After a car accident, Karen awakes in the hospital with no recollection of what had happened that evening and a possible murder rap.

A Stranger in the House offers a good story with lots of false turns.

We get a sense of foreboding from the very beginning when Tom comes home to an empty house. His wife Karen is in the hospital and can’t remember anything that happened to get her there.

Tom looks at his wife through new eyes. Who is this woman I married two years ago? Karen begins to notice things moved or disrupted in the house. We wonder if she’s being Gaslighted.

And then, there’s their strange, intrusive, knitting-obsessed neighbor Brigid. She spends her days sitting by the window, a sentry on the neighborhood’s comings and goings.

Red herrings abound. When we think the story is going one way, we see into a character’s thoughts and the story turns.

I struggle on whether to give this three or four stars. The story is well-crafted and interesting, but a couple of things sully it:

Drawback #1:

A Stranger in the House reads like The Couple Next Door 2.0.

The plot lines of the two books are different, but thematic elements are very similar. In my mind, I kept calling this book The Other Couple Next Door.

Both books featured a young enviable couple whose relationship comes into question. The seemingly strong husbands are easily manipulated. Female neighbors are menacingly meddlesome. Cops are noble and intelligent and think of nothing more than getting to the bottom of the case. Twists abound.

It’s almost as if Lapena’s world is a twisted version of Lake Wobegon, where the women are mentally unhinged, the men are weak-minded, and the children are victims of the parents to whom they’re born.

Drawback #2:

It’s written in present-tense. That alone usually isn’t a deterrent in reading, but somehow makes it difficult to truly invest in this story.

The whole thing feels a bit off-the-cuff, less connected. It does a disservice to the story, where the characters, their inner workings, and misdeeds are so tightly woven.

I felt like a passive observer to this story, which, of course, I am. But I want to feel like I’m in the story. I want the drama and suspense to squeeze my psyche. I want to feel heartbreak and shock and the wonderful twists we’ve come to love and expect from Lapena.

Drawbacks aside, A Stranger in the House is good reading and I would happily recommend it to people.

I look forward to reading more from this author. She’s found a formula that works, one reminiscent of the most pearl-clutching noir page-turners. I’d challenge her to take that brilliant imagination and stretch it even further.

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