McLaughlin’s debut thriller tells a story of dark family secrets.
Minnesota therapist Claire Fiksen struggles for composure as the 10th anniversary of the car accident that killed her parents on her 16th birthday approaches. She’s buoyed by her doctor-in-training boyfriend, Hank; her grandparents (who make pork roast with apples from their orchard to celebrate her birthday); and Zola, her deaf spaniel. But she’s unsettled by new feelings that surface without warning: Suddenly, her washroom scale “lures her like a birthday horoscope,” and even her favorite foods turn her stomach. After she has several fainting spells with no medical explanation—and upsetting, sexually violent dreams—Claire revisits memories of her mother and of the night of the crash. As McLaughlin, a certified nutritionist and health writer, slowly reveals the mysteries behind Claire’s illness, as well as long-hidden truths and snippets of memories, the novel’s darkness gathers like storm clouds. Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, a parallel plot unfolds: An unnamed, ill woman struggles with an eating disorder as she’s held prisoner in a basement by an abusive doctor. These italicized sections, told from the mystery woman’s perspective, inventively add to the mystery. The guessing game ramps up as readers puzzle out how the man and woman fit into Claire’s life, especially as the woman’s thoughts begin to mirror Claire’s. Unfortunately, the novel slows during the somewhat grisly denouement, where speed might have been more beneficial. Overall, however, McLaughlin’s pacing moves at a satisfying clip for much of the novel and effectively heightens the suspense.
An engaging story with an inventive structure and an intriguing focus on body-image issues.