The Woman in the Window is exactly like Rear Window
… if Jimmy Stewart were a woman, agoraphobic, haunted by past trauma, wealthy, on powerful psychotropic drugs, and drunk. A lot of each.
OK, it isn’t so much like Rear Window as it is a wink and a nod to it.
Anna lives in a huge empty home in an affluent neighborhood. She has spent close to a year rambling around the house while under the throes of acute agoraphobia, the result of a traumatic event in her recent past.
Keeping to her routine, Anna spends her days conversing online, drinking, watching movies, more drinking, and watching her neighbors. She’s come to learn their daily habits, watching but never participating.
When new neighbors move in, she knows right away that something is not quite right. The teenage son is emotional about the move. And the father’s violent outbursts concern her. But Anna finds a strange friend in the mother, this quirky, laughing woman who doesn’t condemn Anna’s condition or stalkery ways. Rather, she’s curious.
Then one night, Anna sees something horrible happen at the house with the new neighbors. Suddenly, her already-steep downward spiral in life takes a nosedive.
Because of the mix of drugs and alcohol, Anna’s an unreliable witness. Was she hallucinating? Did it actually happen? Who’s the real victim here?
As one can expect in books like these, there’s a shocking twist.
I bemoaned the twists in the other recent thriller, The Wife Between Us. This is different. The twist isn’t forced or thrown in for shock value. Refreshingly (and titillatingly), it’s organic to the story and exposes everything in a different light.
One setback to this otherwise perfect story: the Scooby-Doo climax. This is a high-brow literary term I’ve coined, describing the resolutions I sometimes see in mystery or suspense books.
Much like in the cartoon Scooby-Doo, the kids catch the villain, who immediately says, “Yes, I did it! And I woulda gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”
And then he or she proceeds to tell the kids in great detail every step they took. Every evil deed, every red herring, every switcheroo, bamboozle, and hoodwink is explained. Characters stand around patiently while the villain delivers this improbably lengthy, itemized soliloquy. As if they get a time out from the drama and action.
It’s a little too neat.
I know I’ve decried the recent trend of vague mysteries with ambivalent endings. But the Scooby-Doo climax swings too far in the other direction. It takes a messy, gritty problem and ties it up in a nice little box with a nice little bow.
But still, I give the book five stars. I’d rather end the book knowing too much than not enough.
The Woman in the Window features frequent nods to black and white suspense movies. Heavy emphasis on the Hitchcockian thriller vibe.
Here are a couple of classic suspense movies recommended by Anna in the book, followed by three more that I think you should watch. Think of these as the movie equivalent of required reading that everyone should do.
Jimmy Stewart is a commitment-phobic travel photographer confined with a broken leg to his upstairs apartment. When he sees a murder happen across the courtyard, he wonders if he can believe his eyes. This movie represents the Hitchcockian gold-standard.
Strange things are afoot in the house. Is the woman slowly going mad, or could it be the workings of her dashing new husband? You’ll notice the term “gaslight” come up in modern lexicon when it someone does something awful, then tries to convince us it’s all in our heads.
A cruel headmaster, his wife, and his mistress. The women team up to take revenge on the man, but it becomes a triangle of deception, intrigue, and lies. We wonder who can trust whom, and which diabolical character will win in this deadly game of wits. Spoiler alert: trust no one.
Eyes Without a Face
A doctor caused an accident that disfigured the face of his beautiful daughter, Christiane. What follows is a string of beautiful women, lured to his estate, then de-faced as he tries time after unsuccessful time to graft new faces onto Christiane. Atmospheric and quietly terrifying.
This is one of my all-time favorite movies, starring people who were actual circus attractions. A little person comes into a large inheritance, catching the eye of the beautiful, scheming trapeze artist. She snags him in marriage, but ridicules and mistreats him. Until the freaks fight back.
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