The Girlfriend by Michelle Francis has received a great deal of buzz in the months leading up to its publication. I’ve heard people call it addictive, spellbinding, and unputdownable, so, of course, I had to give it a try. It’s a complicated story filled with extremely flawed characters, and I imagine it’s perfect for readers who enjoy their mysteries with a lot of interpersonal drama mixed with the suspense.
Laura loves her life. Well, that’s what she wants people to believe anyway. Her marriage might be crumbling before her eyes, but that’s a closely guarded secret. Everyone around her is only aware of the good things: her successful career in the movie business, the close relationship she has with her twenty-three-year-old son Daniel, the beautiful house she lives in, and her wide circle of fashionable friends. FOr Laura, Daniel is the most important part of her life. She considers him to be the very best part of herself, and she would like nothing better than for him to spend the rest of his life at home with her.
Daniel, as one might imagine, has other plans. He loves his parents, but he’s very aware of the cracks in their marriage, and he’s ready to spread his wings and move out of the family home. To this end, he wanders into a local real estate office in hopes of picking up some leads on a flat, and that’s where he meets Cherry, the pretty, young real estate agent who will change his life in ways he could never have imagined.
Cherry hates being poor. She grew up the only child of a single mother who worked a series of low-paying jobs just to keep food on the table, and Cherry knows she wants more than that. She’d like fancy clothes, a flashy car, and a rich husband to lavish her with gifts. When she lays eyes on Daniel, the obviously well-off med student, she knows he’s exactly what she’s been looking for, and she formulates a plan to seduce him.
When Daniel brings Cherry home to meet his parents, Laura is immediately suspicious and isn’t taken in by the younger woman’s wide-eyed innocent act. She’s sure Cherry is hiding something, but she can’t lay her finger on exactly what that might be. Still, she does her best to make her feel welcome, knowing that’s what Daniel expects her to do, but, as time passes and Cherry becomes ever more enmeshed in their lives, Laura’s sense of unease increases. Now, she’ll do anything to free Daniel from the web Cherry has woven around him, even if it ends up costing her everyone and everything she holds dear.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, clear-cut mystery, The Girlfriend probably isn’t the book for you. It’s a slow, meandering story that relies heavily on the machinations of its characters to keep it moving forward. It’s not filled with startling twists; instead, everything is laid out for the reader to see, and the fun of the story is watching the characters try to figure out what you already know to be true. It’s not something that will work for everyone. In fact, I found myself troubled by parts of it, but those who are willing to suspend their disbelief for a while are likely to enjoy the story.
Both Cherry and Laura are incredibly manipulative people, and I sometimes grew frustrated with all their scheming. Both women come up with some outlandish ways of getting even with one another, and while I was initially fascinated by the strange ways their minds worked, I did eventually grow a little tired of the constant cat fighting. For some reason, neither woman seems capable of straightforward communication, something I think the novel could have benefited from, and I was occasionally tempted to scream at them to just talk to one another instead of coming up with all these elaborate revenge plots.
It’s obvious that both Cherry and Laura absolutely adore Daniel, but I wasn’t always sure why. He’s kind, funny, and super smart, the kind of character who often seems too good to be true. He never flies off the handle or stomps off in a huff, but, despite the many virtues with which Ms. Francis imbues him, I never felt he was worth the fuss Laura and Cherry made over him. In some ways, he felt more like a puppet than a flesh and blood man, and for someone so (supposedly) smart, he did some really stupid things sometimes.
Having said all that, I did find The Girlfriend to be a compelling read. I wanted to see how things turned out for the characters, and so I kept reading, even when the story bordered on the ridiculous. The ending was satisfying, and not something I completely saw coming, so I count The Girlfriend as a qualified win.