Such Dark Things
Back in 1988 a little film called Fatal Attraction garnered five academy award nominations. A movie about a man whose short fling with a beautiful, successful woman goes really, really bad, it’s a cautionary tale of how one small mistake can have some very big consequences. In many ways, Such Dark Things is a millennial version of that dark story.
She remembers the blood. It was everywhere. But she doesn’t remember her father killing the people next door when she was just a teenager, even though she was there when it happened. In fact, Dr. Corrine Cabot seems to make a habit of forgetting unpleasant things. For example, right now she is in a psychiatric care facility because she can’t remember the night she tried to kill herself.
Jude, her husband, is a man with secrets. He’s afraid – or rather, practically certain – one of them caused Corrine’s breakdown. Every morning on his run, as he pounds out the miles, he tries to pound out a penance. What got them here? What turned a marriage of two beautiful, successful people into a place of anger and betrayal, where death seems to hover at the door? Was it stress? Jealousy?
The answer is something far more sinister. And far more dangerous than either of them can imagine.
We know from almost the very beginning that this is a story of how the past affects the present, but the author moves her narrative back and forth in the time line – from present day to a few months prior to years prior– to keep us guessing which part of the past plays into how and why things went wrong. It’s an effective tool in that it gives her a chance to resolve multiple issues while keeping the reader from getting bored or being able to guess what is happening/happened. But as effective as it is, it can’t hide the book’s, big flaw.
Before we go there though, let’s talk about what she gets right. Her pacing and storytelling are very smooth, and Jude, his brother Michael and Corrine are all three dimensional and nuanced characters. The author does a good job of creating her setting: the tools she uses to set it up aren’t obvious but to most middle-class people in the Western world, the setting will have a strong sense of familiarity. Her prose is easy to read, clear, concise and she uses it well to paint a portrait of lives gone incredibly right turning into lives gone incredibly wrong. The plot, however, leaves a little to be desired.
Because that’s where the big flaw comes in: the unbelievability factor. Corrine and Jude literally have it all: great looks, fascinating careers, comfortable finances, supportive family and friends. Aside from the fact that Corrine annually becomes an emotionally closed off workaholic during the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the murders, they have a great marriage. Still, I could understand why two wonderful young people would have a crack in their otherwise wedded bliss during that yearly, controlled meltdown. Jude is lonely, sick of being stuck waiting to have a family while Corrine works out her daddy issues and vulnerable to a sexy, flirtatious beauty who wants to give him the world. I can believe Corrine is neglectful, nervous and exhausted from fear of her disturbing memories and turns to people other than Jude for comfort. The author does a fantastic job on that setup. But as the details of the affair become known, I began to disengage a bit from the tale. There is a difference in being stalked by a psycho and being enamored with one. I could understand how Corrine and Jude might fall prey to the former but that one of them became captivated with the psycho, that I didn’t buy. Especially given how quickly the psychotic got really, really wrong.
Fortunately, that unbelievability factor does not destroy the tale. I still found myself completely interested in learning if Corrine ever regained her memories, and how she and Jude would disengage themselves from the crazy in their lives. But the disturbing images and deeply disquieting histories we are exposed to on the way to figuring everything out fail to hide the fact that the mystery within Such Dark Things is ultimately implausible. It’s an intriguing novel but its allure relies heavily on the train wreck factor: You know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help yourself.