You Were Made for This
Michelle Sacks delivers a chilling, disturbing thriller with her debut novel, You Were Made for This. It will make you question everything you have ever believed about happiness, friendship and family.
Before I begin my review, I want to emphasize the “disturbing” part of my description. This story includes psychological and physical spousal abuse, child abuse, and child sexual abuse performed by some nasty, vicious characters. I found the story rather disturbing and want to warn those for whom violence and abuse are hot button issues to avoid this novel. On the other hand, those who enjoy twisty psychological thrillers starring deeply flawed characters will want to dive right in.
Merry and Sam have it all. Literally the first words you read in the novel are about the perfection of their lives. Merry tells us:
“If you saw us, you’d probably hate us. We look like the cast of an insurance commercial: shiny, happy us. The perfect little family, living the perfect little life. Wasn’t that another perfect day? Is what we always sat at the end of days like these. “
Actually, no it wasn’t. And that difference -between appearance and reality – is what our tale is all about.
Sam has worked hard to build the perfect life -and the perfect wife. He handpicked Merry because he knew, from the moment they met, she would let him mold her into his ideal woman. He loves doing that. He tells us:
“If I think about the part that’s really addictive, the part that’s the sweetest, it’s the way they look when you’ve hurt them. The way they crack and break. Even the strongest woman is just a little girl in disguise, desperate for you to notice something about her. So hungry for it, she’ll do anything you ask. Low things.”
When Sam screws up big time and loses his job in America, he seizes the opportunity to take Merry to Sweden, to a little house he’s inherited there. A small, isolated cabin with only one close neighbor, set in the idyllic countryside.
Merry’s favorite game is pretend. Right now, she is pretending to be the perfect Swedish wife: she cooks meals from scratch, gardens, cleans the house with homemade soaps and makes her own baby food. This is what Sam wants. What he demands. The moment Sam leaves the house she becomes all the things she can’t be around him – a carb addict, TV watcher, bad mother. She doesn’t love baby Conner. Oh, she knows she should, but she doesn’t. She’s exhausted from playing the part Sam demands of her and relishes the moments she can take that out on her son.
Frank (Frances) is Merry’s best frenemy. They’ve played at being ‘besties’ since childhood, but that game is one in which a thousand cuts and bruises are delivered. They each envy what the other has and that envy is expressed by working hard at stealing from each other and bringing each other down. Their closeted enmity/co-dependence reaches a whole new level when Frank sees Merry’s ‘happy’ home and decides she wants it. When she comes for a ‘visit’, their worlds collide and implode.
Dark, addictive and seductive, this story is a walk through some of your worst nightmares. It’s time spent inhabiting a place where you can’t trust anyone. The author excels at taking it to the next level. You will think these people can’t go any further in their sadistic little games but then they do, and you are horrified anew. The pacing here, where each new kernel of truth is delivered just a tiny bit at a time, is amazing. Everything you thought you knew – prepare to be surprised, because you didn’t know it.
One thing that really stands out is how the author could build to a big truth – why Sam hated his mother, for example, – and then deliver it in an almost offhand manner. A paragraph would explain something you’ve spent half the book wondering about and that paragraph would be like a bomb in your head. Explosive, devastating, and changing completely the order of things. If you’re looking for a twisting, turning, thrill-a-minute ride, you will find it within the pages of this novel.
That said, this book was like peeling back the layers on a rotten onion. You think those first few layers are nasty but the closer to the core you get, the more repulsed you are. None of these characters are likable. None are sympathetic. Even as you learn what formed them – the painful childhoods, the traumas in adulthood – you do not gain sympathy for them. You will wish you had never met them. They will suck some of the joy from your world, even if just temporarily.
If the goal of a psychological suspense novel is shock and awe, Ms. Sacks certainly achieves her objective with You Were Made for This. However, the fact that the characters are so deeply embedded in their depravity gives the novel an otherworldly feel that almost deprives it of some of its power. Less would have been more in this case. A bit of good mixed in with the bad would have lent some much-needed light to the darkness. That said, this is a powerful début for those who have the courage to take it on.