A Door That Shouldn’t Be Opened

SPOILER warning!

I finished Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris a couple weeks ago, which is the first fiction book I’ve read in a long time. The only reason I’d give it even 2 out of 5 stars is because I was so desperate to read fiction that it seemed excellent. Kind of like when you’re really hungry and even that cardboard-like leftover pizza from five days ago is wonderful.

Anyway, Behind Closed Doors is the typical domestic violence thriller, pitting husband against wife. Grace is a 30-something woman, and her younger sister, Millie, has Down syndrome. Grace is finding it difficult to get a decent guy who accepts her and her sister. Her dreams appear to have come true when Jack Angel appears out of nowhere, dances with Millie at the park, then asks Grace out. Of course, is the perfect guy: good-looking, intelligent, and makes a ton of money as a highfalutin lawyer who defends battered women. Naturally, Grace falls for him, and in a matter of only three months, he asks her to marry him. She accepts. Her life becomes hell.

My first thought upon learning that the villain’s name was Jack Angel was “well, that’s a screamingly obvious technique to reveal that a seemingly good guy is in fact the bad guy.” Turns out that Jack is not actually his real name but a “clever” alias he developed for himself after he murdered his own mother. Classy guy.

I found it a bit unbelievable that Grace would end up marrying Jack in the first place. She supposedly had a lot of experience with dating, so you’d think she would know the warning signs, or her “creep radar” would start going off. But if you read the literature about psychopaths, which Jack revealed himself to be in short order, you know that they are initially charming and adept at fooling people. The entire time I was reading the book, I was picturing Jack looking something like Ted Bundy.

Behind Closed Doors is the kind of book in which you want to reach inside the fictional world and and kill the character yourself. It was also the kind of book that makes you feel uncomfortable the entire time you’re reading it, because you’re waiting for the next horrible thing to befall the protagonist. I didn’t particularly care for that kind of suspense vibe because everything that happened to Grace was just plain sick. Jack ended up wanting to get to Millie because she would be easier to scare (being that she had Down syndrome), and he apparently lives off the feeling of fear that he invokes in his victims. Fortunately nothing happened Millie, but just the thought that Jack would hurt her was very off-putting, like the author was making a cheap shot at people with disabilities.

Most suspense novels are incredibly fast paced and don’t have much description of settings and characters. Both applied to Behind Closed Doors, which I finished in less than 24 hours. Because there was so little description, it was hard to picture anything beyond Ted Bundy in an immaculate house torturing Grace, who I vaguely imagined to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. At a couple points in the book, the characters traveled to Thailand, but I couldn’t picture it at all from the author’s (lack of) description.

Other reviews have made comparisons to The Girl on the Train, but Behind Closed Doors was not as good or as memorable. What would have been more interesting is if the story had been written from Jack’s perspective; I would have liked to know more about his backstory. I suspect he was lying when he told Grace that he killed his mother. It is also rare to read a book from the perspective of the villain, especially a book in this genre.

Basically, I’d recommend this one if you have a few hours to kill or if for some reason, you want to feel very uncomfortable. Other than that… stay away from it.

With Utmost Resolve

I didn’t make any concrete resolutions for 2018. When people ask what my resolution is, I tell them that it’s to be a good wife. I don’t know how you’d turn that into a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound), and by most accounts, resolutions and goals should be SMART. But I figure that if that is my only goal, then it should be OK. It is something I keep at the forefront of my mind all the time, and I don’t need any reminders to carry it out. I realized that if I make too many specific goals, I forget them or put too much effort into trying to remember exactly what they are.

The past couple years, I’ve been feeling guilty that I haven’t completed my resolutions to the extent that I would like to have done, so this year I want to let go of that guilt about arbitrary goals that don’t really matter all that much. I figure that if I focus my attention on the one goal that does matter, I’ll do better. After all, nobody’s perfect. Not even the company that made my planner:

The Teenagers of America

If you want assurance that the teenagers of America are not all mindless zombies walking around with phones in hand, totally oblivious to anything of beauty or substance, look no further than Scholastic’s annual compilation: The Best Teen Writing of 2017. The book’s editors have gathered the best award-winning writing from the most talented among American middle and high schoolers and arranged it into genres (poetry, personal essay, journalism, memoir, short story, novel, etc.). The result is a hodgepodge of hard-hitting pieces that make you feel, in Emily Dickinson’s words, “physically as though the top of my head were taken off.”

The works have so much wisdom that it doesn’t seem like they were written by teenagers at all. The descriptions are evocative, the word choice nearly flawless. Honestly, it’ll make you jealous that you don’t have that kind of talent, even when you’ve been slaving away as a writer for years before these kids were born. Speaking of which, some writers are born, and some are made, and it seemed from reading the pieces, that these young writers were mostly born with this talent, which was honed and cultivated by dutiful parents and teachers.

Of course, you can’t write an (interesting) book review without a couple of complaints, so here are mine. “Diversity” seemed to be a major factor in choosing the pieces, but I would have no way of knowing if the pieces chosen for the compilation were chosen because they were actually the best or because the editors wanted to make sure that all races and ethnicities were represented equally.

Many of the essays and journalism pieces seemed to be biased toward the political left, but I suppose that’s a mark of the newest generation—they are supposedly more liberal than past generations, and they’ve grown up in a world saturated with media that is mostly biased toward the left. You are what you eat, I guess.

Regardless, this compilation is a worthwhile read and provides insight into the thoughts of the best and the brightest, which may not actually be representative of the thoughts of all teenagers in America—just the tiny fraction of those who can express themselves through words.