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Book Nook - 19-02-2019

Tuesday, February 19, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Trapped In Truth
Following the success of their last book The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, have written another psychological thriller, An Anonymous Girl, which is not as suspenseful and twisted as the earlier book, but is taut enough to make it a page-turner.

Jessica Farris, a Manhattan make-up artist, always short of cash, agrees to be part of a study about morality and ethics. She, in fact, sneaks into the study by lying about how she landed there, which makes her an even more interesting subject for the invisible psychiatrist, Dr Lydia Shields. Jessica thinks she will answer some questions, collect her cheque and leave, but she is drawn in into a web, by revealing more about herself than she should have. Answering questions like would she lie to a loved one, and has she deeply hurt someone she cares about, affect Jessica a lot, because of the guilt she has buried in her past. But by baring her soul to Dr Shields, Jessica walks into a trap.

Dr. Shields, a beautiful and sinister woman, can use this knowledge to destroy Jessica’s life. However, she breaks her own rules of keeping the interactions secret, to meet Jessica. The rich and sophisticated older woman, befriends the impressionable Jessica, and under the pretext of acting out some of the ethical dilemmas in real life, gets the young woman to perform some unpleasant tasks. Jessica is dazzled by the money, but also discomfited by what she is getting into. By the time she figures what’s going on, she is in too deep, and Dr Shields will not let her off the hook till she gets what she wants.

Jessica inadvertently puts her family – parents and disabled sister—into jeopardy, and wrecks her budding romance with the charming chef Noah before it even starts properly. However, Jessica may have been susceptible to Dr Shield’s nefarious plans, but she is not totally dumb. She starts pulling at any threads she can find and unravels a disturbing story that may have led to the death of another subject of Dr Shields’s so-called study.

The plot is far-fetched and the twists too contrived, but the cat-and-mouse game between the two women keeps the reader guessing till the end.
 
An Anonymous Girl
By: Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St. Martin's
Pages: 384

 

Excerpt of An Anonymous Girl
You have no idea how eagerly your third session has been anticipated, Subject 52.

You look as lovely as ever, but your manner is subdued. After you enter Room 214, you slowly slip out of your coat and place it on the back of your chair. It hangs unevenly, but you don’t adjust it. You sit down heavily and hesitate before you touch the enter key to begin.

Were you lonely on Thanksgiving, too?

Once the first query appears and you open your thoughts, your true nature asserts itself and you grow more animated.

You are learning to enjoy the process, aren’t you?

When the fourth question emerges, your fingers move across the keyboard swiftly. Your posture is excellent. You do not fidget. This all indicates that you have especially strong and clear feelings on this particular subject.

You see your friend’s fiance kiss another woman a week before the wedding. Do you tell her?

What I’d do is this, you type. I’d confront him and say that he has 24 hours to confess, or I’ll tell her myself. It would be one thing if he were with his buddies at a bachelor party at a strip club and he put a twenty in a G-string. A lot of guys do that sort of stuff for show. But outside of a situation like that, there isn’t any excuse. I couldn’t look the other way and pretend I didn’t see it. Because if a guy cheats on you once, you know he’s going to do it again.

After you write those words, you stop typing, hit enter, and wait for the next question.

It doesn’t immediately appear.

A minute passes.

Is everything okay? You type.

Another minute passes.

A response is crafted: Just a moment, please.

You look puzzled, but you nod.

Your answer is absolute: It seems you believe humans are incapable of reshaping their innate natures, even when their urges lead to pain and destruction.

Your furrowed brow and slightly narrowed eyes illustrated the depth of your convictions.

Because if a guy cheats on you once, you know he’s going to do it again.

You are waiting for the next question. But it isn’t forthcoming.

Your responses have formed an unexpected connection; when linked together, they create an epiphany.

The vital lines in your previous answers are reviewed:

I’m not looking for a serious relationship. You typed this in your second session.

You twist around and peer at the clock on the wall behind you, then you look toward the door. From every angle, you are enchanting.

I hope it’s okay if I break the rules. You wrote these words before you confided that this study is reshaping your relationship with your own morality.

You fiddle with the silver stacking rings on your index finger as you frown at the computer screen. This is one of your habits when you are being thoughtful, or experiencing anxiety.

I really need money, you wrote in your first session.

Something extraordinary is occurring.

It is as though you are now guiding the study into a different realm. You, the young woman who wasn’t supposed to be a part of it at all.

You are presented with two more questions. They are out of sequence, but you won’t know this.

You reply to them both confidently. Flawlessly.

The final query you will receive today is one no other subject will ever see.

It has been developed expressly for you.

When it appears, your eyes widen as they fly across the screen.

Answer it one way, and you will walk out of this room and you won’t return.

But if you answer it another way, the possibilities are endless; you could become a pioneer in the field of psychological research.

It is a gamble, posing this query.

You are worth the risk.

You don’t reply immediately. You push back your chair and stand up.

Then you disappear.

Your footsteps rap against the linoleum floor. You briefly come into view, then you vanish again.

You are pacing.

Now the roles have been upended: You are the one causing a delay. You are also the one who will decide whether this study will undergo a metamorphosis.

You return to your seat and lean forward. Your eyes flit across the screen as you read the question once more.

Would you consider expanding your participation in this study? The compensation would be significantly higher, but significantly more would be asked of you.

Slowly, you lift your hands and begin to type.

I’ll do it.
 
 

A Woman Scorned
Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen collaborated for the first time for last year’s bestseller, The Wife Between Us, which will also be seen on screen soon.

It is a mind-bender of book, in which nothing is what it seems. For a while it seems like Vanessa, the discarded wife of the handsome and successful Richard, is stalking Nellie, the young woman he is planning to marry, but the reason she is doing that is not what it appears.

Vannesa married Richard and found that he ended up controlling her life to the extent that she was almost imprisoned in her large suburban home, which he bought without even consulting her. He keeps her in designer clothes and expensive jewellery, but she feels alienated. When he leaves her for another woman, her life crashes.

She has to move in with her aunt, take up a job as a saleswoman in a swanky store where her former society friends shop and feel sorry for her, and to cope, she turns to drink. A scenario similar to so many books, like Paula Hawkins’s bestsellingThe Girl On The Train. Then she tries to contact Nellie, to make her stop the impending wedding. The reason becomes apparent later.

Hendriks and Pekkanen use a back-and-forth narrative style that gets confusing, but also adds an extra layer of intrigue to the plot.  All the characters have something to hide, so things get deliciously dark, and the final twist does come up as a surprise.
 
The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St. Martin's
Pages: 352

 

Excerpt of The Wife Between Us
Nellie couldn’t say what woke her. But when she opened her eyes, a woman wearing her white, lacy wedding gown stood by the foot of her bed, looking down at her.

Nellie’s throat closed around a scream and she lunged for the baseball bat leaning against her nightstand. Then her vision adjusted to the grainy, dawn light and the pounding of her heart softened.  

She let out a tight laugh as she realized she was safe.  The illusion was merely her wedding dress, hanging on the back of her closet door, where she’d placed it yesterday after picking it up from the bridal shop.  Ensconced in plastic, the bodice and full skirt were stuffed with crumpled tissue to maintain the shape. Nellie collapsed back onto her pillow.  When her breathing steadied, she checked the blocky blue numbers on her nightstand clock. Too early, again.

She stretched her arms overhead and reached with her left hand to turn off the alarm before it could blare, the diamond engagement ring Richard had given her feeling heavy and foreign on her finger.

Even as a child, Nellie had never been able to fall asleep easily.  Her mother didn’t have the patience for drawn-out bedtime rituals, but her father would gently rub her back, spelling out sentences over the fabric of her nightgown. I love you or You’re super special, he’d write, and she would try to guess the message.  Other times he’d trace patterns, circles, stars and triangles - at least until her parents divorced and he moved out when she was nine.  Then she’d lie alone in her twin bed under her pink and purple striped comforter and stare at the water stain that marred her ceiling.  

 When she finally dozed off, she usually slept hard for a good seven or eight hours - so deeply and dreamlessly that her mother commented that Nellie “slept like the dead.”

But following an October night in her senior year of college, that suddenly changed.

Her insomnia worsened sharply, and her sleep became fractured by vivid dreams and abrupt awakenings. Once, she came downstairs to breakfast in her sorority house and her Chi Omega sister told her she’d been yelling something unintelligible.  Nellie had attempted to brush it off. “Just stressed about finals,” she’d said. “The Psych Stat exam is supposed to be a killer.” Then she’d left the table to get another cup of coffee.

After that, she’d forced herself to visit the college counselor, but despite the woman’s gentle coaxing, Nellie couldn’t talk about the warm, early-fall night that had begun with bottles of vodka and laughter and ended with police sirens and despair. Nellie had met with the therapist twice, but cancelled her third appointment and never went back.

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