In Haynes’ debut, a woman is stalked by the former lover who nearly killed her.
Because of a dual time frame that introduces us to twitching, OCD- and PTSD-plagued Catherine Bailey in the fall of 2007 and then pulls back to 2003, we know that the gorgeous, too-good-to-be-true guy she meets in a bar on Halloween is…too good to be true. So the suspense, such as it is, comes from 1) waiting to find out exactly what horrible injuries Lee Brightman inflicted that got him jailed, and 2) how long it will take him to find Cathy, relocated from Lancaster to London, once he is released on December 28. The author plausibly traces Cathy’s evolution from feisty party girl to paralyzed victim too terrified to do anything but wait for the next blow or knife slash—and it’s a nasty twist that smooth-talking Lee has persuaded all her girlfriends that she’s a neurotic self-cutter inexplicably trying to reject the man who truly loves her. The arrival in Cathy’s present-day life of gentle psychologist Stuart Richardson, who refers her to doctors to treat her disorders and builds up her self-esteem, is plausible enough, though Stuart is the kind of totally understanding character who exists only in novels to heal the heroine and be bonked on the head by the villain. Readers are basically turning the pages until they get to the big denouements: the gory final scene of abuse, which in real life would likely have ended with Cathy’s death; and the climactic confrontation in which we hope she will inflict equally gory retribution. (Don’t worry.) Haynes clearly intends this to be a tale of female empowerment, but it’s really just another revenge fantasy. And the ending, which dangles the possibility of a sequel, is a cheap shot.
Effective, in an ugly sort of way.