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Rachel Sorenson has just escaped an abusive marriage, but she’s still not free of her ex-husband. Frank comes along every few nights, talks his way past the security guard at her apartment building, and goes upstairs to beat on her door and demand that she take him back. Police say they just don’t have the manpower to guard her around the clock, so she’s dealing with this largely on her own.
Little does she know that someone is watching her.
Harry Landon is a photographer obsessed with Beauty. Not subjective beauty in its many forms, but perfect, unblemished, divine Beauty. He thinks he’s found his goddess in Rachel. He watches her through his telescope at all hours of the day and night. He takes pictures of her. He knows that the goddess resides within Rachel, and when he cuts her, Beauty will burst forth in a blaze of light.
This is one of Charles de Lint’s pseudonym books–the books he wrote openly as Samuel Key as a signal that this book is darker than his normal fare. I didn’t care for From a Whisper to a Scream, so I’ve never been too interested in picking this one up. I finally gave in and read it in my attempt to read the Newford books in order.
I was pleasantly surprised for the most part. This was a straight-up thriller that was rocketing along and ratcheting up the tension. It seems a little unlikely that one woman would have two stalkers at the same time, but once you let go of that, this was a genuine page-turner. Frank is a textbook study of the abusive husband. Harry is terrifying in his convoluted, violent logic. Events just keep snowballing until the tension is almost unbearable.
Oh, and then.
It fell apart for me.
I almost threw my book across the room, I was so frustrated. I don’t want to say anything about why, but it almost ruined the book for me. It had everything to do with some choices that were made, but it also had a little bit of what I like to call the Speed effect.
Have you ever seen that Keanu Reeves movie, Speed? You know how it should have ended at least 30 minutes before it actually did? That’s what I’m talking about. If de Lint had just cut it a little shorter, this would have been a perfectly respectable thriller. But he didn’t. And between the frustrating choices I mentioned above, and the cheat of an ending, I had to knock this back a full star.
Harry’s meditations on Beauty got a little repetitive as well. I reasoned it away, thinking that the guy is obviously psychotic, so it makes sense that his thoughts would follow those well-worn paths, but it did get a little boring to read.
I like that de Lint chose to mention that Frank has a medical condition that causes him to act the way he does, but he never gave it a name. There’s enough of a stigma attached to psychiatric disorders without authors inadvertently making it worse by seeming to imply that everyone with a particular mental illness is also a wife-beater.
I enjoyed watching Rachel get more confident and comfortable in her own skin. I always feel like de Lint does a great job portraying his female characters and Rachel is generally not an exception. Generally. She might not be my favorite, but she feels real and I understand where she’s coming from.
I liked the way that de Lint worked so many women’s issues into a book that really is a good thriller. Not only is there the abuse and the stalking, but there’s the way that society views Rachel, as a victim who probably brought this on herself. Several characters talk about feminine beauty and the impossible ideal we are asked to live up to everyday, and the devastating consequences on our bodies and self-confidence. There are discussions about how women just have to be more careful in their day-to-day lives. A stroll home in the dark for a man can be a heart-pounding exercise in survival for a woman. There are even some career issues worked in, with some women being treated differently by their male bosses based on their looks. None of this took away from the action of the story, but it enriched it in a way that is reminiscent of de Lint’s overall body of work. There’s the story, and there’s what you take away from the story. They both add to each other.
I don’t regret reading this, I just wish that I could have read a version with an alternate ending. If you think you can overlook that, go ahead and give it a try. It really is a good book.
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