If She Were Dead
Obsession is one of my favorite themes when it comes to novels of psychological suspense, so If She Were Dead, the latest offering from author J.P. Smith, really piqued my interest. It’s the story of two women who happen to be in love with the same man, and how far one or both of them might go in order to make him hers forever. The premise is promising, but the story itself turned out to be less-than impressive.
Amelie’s life seems to be falling apart around her ears. Her husband recently left her for a much younger woman, and she’s just learned the couple is expecting their first child. Her daughter has just left for college, a right of passage Amelie once thought she’d be overjoyed about but which now leaves her feeling more alone than ever. Her writing career used to be fun and interesting, but it now feels like a chore to sit down and write every day. She owes her editor a draft her latest novel, but the words just don’t seem to be flowing.
Amelie’s relationship with Ben is the only bright spot in her dreary existence. The two have known each other casually for years, but two years ago, they gave into the attraction they felt for one another and embarked on a secret affair. Now that Amelie’s husband has left her, she’s beginning to want more than a few stolen hours with Ben. She finds herself wondering why Ben won’t leave Janet, the woman he’s been married to for years, so they can be together openly.
At first, Amelie cautions herself against being too greedy and presumptuous, but all that caution eventually flies out the window as Amelie becomes ever more obsessed with Ben and his place in her life. When she should be working on her novel, she spends time creating elaborate fantasies about what her life might look like if only Janet were dead.
When I first started reading this book, I was expecting a dual narrative that would allow me to get to know both Janet and Amelie. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. Instead, the story is told mainly from Amelie’s perspective, with a few brief forays into Janet’s head randomly thrown into the mix. As a result, Janet remained a shadowy, unknowable presence instead of a fully fleshed out character I could really root for. I wanted to understand how she felt about Ben’s infidelity, but I never felt like her feelings and motivations came clear.
Amelie herself was impossible for me to like. She’s going through some hard times, but her life doesn’t appear to be nearly as horrible as she makes it out to be, and all of her constant complaining grew tiresome before I was a third of the way through the story. It’s not essential that I love the characters I’m reading about, but feeling such a strong dislike for the protagonist can sometimes get in the way of my enjoyment of a book, and that’s precisely what happened here. I wanted Amelie to look beyond her own feelings and insecurities, but she was never able to do that, and I found myself losing interest pretty quickly as a result.
The novel’s narrative structure has a stream-of-consciousness feel that didn’t work for me at all. I don’t mind when an author moves back and forth in time as long as I can keep the sequence of events straight in my head, something I struggled to do while reading If She Were Dead. Since the majority of our time is spent sifting through Amelie’s disordered thoughts, it would have been helpful if the author had chosen to use chapter headings to illustrate where we were in time at any given moment. Since this was not done in the copy I read, the story came off as rather disorganized and difficult to follow.
I don’t want to talk too much about the end of the book in case you do decide to try it for yourself, but I think it’s important for potential readers to know that I have no idea what actually happened between Amelie, Ben, and Janet. There was a confrontation of sorts, but the author never clearly spells out the results. I guess it’s left up to the reader’s imagination, something that always feels like a bit of a cop out to me.
Needless to say, this is not a novel I can recommend. It had a ton of potential, but its many flaws really put me off. I don’t want to say I’ll never read another book by this author, but it’s not something I’m in a big hurry to do any time soon.