Behind Her Eyes begins as domestic thrillers often do: at a breaking point between a husband and wife. David is a handsome, successful psychologist, and Adele is his lovely, troubled wife. The pair have abruptly moved to London, and in their new home, David strikes up an affair with his receptionist, a single mother named Louise. There is, of course, more to the story – much more – which I won’t mention at this point. But I will say that the tension builds steadily, page after page.Behind Her Eyes stumped and electrified me. What I failed to see is that Sarah Pinborough is playing an entirely new game. This novel isn’t just a who-dun-it. This novel is a what-the-fuck-even-got-dun.My advice for reading this novel? Don’t rush it. Don’t read it alone. Don’t spoil the ending for your friends.
In a “limbo of a neighborhood”, where “the streets are populated with abandoned homes and condemned buildings” sits the headquarters of the Elysian Society. Made of cool white brick, “at a squinting it could be a church, or a museum”. It’s an appropriately eerie setting for a very unusual organization.
The Elysian Society offers grieving clients the ability to reconnect with their deceased loved ones through attendants known as “bodies,” who, with the help of a special pill, becomes possessed by the ghost of the departed. All they need to get started is a single personal item that belonged to the spirit being sought.
In a strange way it’s not that different than a visit to a massage therapist or an acupuncturist – the “bodies” are practitioners who provide a helpful and healing service in scheduled hourly appointments. Of course, as with any profession where people form close bonds, the boundaries between the professional and the personal sometimes become blurred…
Long term employee Edie (short for Eurydice) is one of the most popular bodies at the Society. Her schedule is always full, and she has earned her own practice room, a coveted perk. However, she is overcome by a deep connection for Patrick, an alluring new client mourning his young, beautiful wife. Against her better judgment, Edie defies the Society’s rules and pursues a relationship with Patrick outside of work, putting her livelihood and her safety at risk as details about the cause of Patrick’s wife’s death begin to emerge. Following along as Edie unfurls their mystery had me on the edge of my seat.
Like the “bodies” at the Elysian Society, The Possessions channels many different forms: it’s a mystery, a romance, a ghost story, and an erotically-charged thriller. It’s a compelling novel that mixes grief and heartache with danger and mystery. It’s a fantastical examination of loneliness and the exploitation of human emotions. And it’s so much fun!
At a time when dystopian novels are all the rage, what a delight to read a novel about striving for perfection, no matter how short the effort may fall. If I could choose one author to write about a flawed yet earnest attempt at utopia, Kevin Wilson would be at the top of my list. Even as he relishes the absurd details in his characters’ lives, he never mocks them, never treats them with anything less than compassion.
Perfect Little World is the story of an ambitious sociological experiment called “The Infinite Family Project.” Dr. Preston Grind, a young and idealistic child psychologist, heads up the study with funding from an elderly big box store magnate, taking the “It takes a village” model of co-parenting to a new level.
Dr. Grind picks ten newborns, along with their parents, and stashes them all in a beautiful complex deep in the Tennessee woods to find out what happens when the children grow up parented collectively by all participants. No child will learn who his or her birth parents are until the sixth year of the study. All parents and children will be well provided for, from education and healthcare, to job training for the parents.
Told from the point of view of the only single parent to take place in the experiment, a young mother named Isabelle Poole, Perfect Little World follows the members of this makeshift family as the study evolves over years. We see the development of both the children and the parents, and also the jealousies and broken hearts, petty fights and larger conflicts that emerge as the years pass. It’s a novel that’s so fun to read that you might forget how fundamentally philosophical it is: What is a family? Do more parent mean more love? How long can such a community maintain its harmony? And ultimately, which are the ties that truly bind?
There are darker questions that arise as well: How does a science experiment differ from a cult? How fallible is human nature? And most importantly, will people separated from regular society want to make out with each other all the time? The novel aims to answer these questions, but it never devolves into satire because the author is too generous for that. Ultimately, the novel’s most enduring question might be: isn’t it better try for an idealized version of the world, than not to have tried at all?