One of the worst things a person can do is compare him or herself to a friend, family member, stranger or peer, yet it’s something we all inherently do. Well, most of us at least. We do this despite knowing that it’s not healthy, and that all it will lead to is sadness, feelings of inferiority and/or depression. As a society, we need to try to learn not to value ourselves in comparison to what others do, what others have and what others make. This is a theme of the new novel, The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding, as you never know what’s really going on behind closed doors.
In this particular case, The Perfect Family is Portland, Maine’s Adler family. A nuclear family through and through, it consists of the patriarch (Thomas, a realtor by trade), the matriarch (Viv, a graphic designer turned freelance stager and interior designer), the son (Eli, who’s returned home from college and doesn’t plan to go back) and the daughter, Tarryn. Still in high school, Tarryn is a dark cloud that moves throughout the family home and lacks the warmth and outward emotion she once showed as a young girl. From the outside, these folks appear to be the ideal family; something which is added to by their fancy cars, beautiful home and large backyard. However, that is not the case.
This story begins with a bang, as a hooded figure skulks towards the Adler house with the intent of both damaging the residence and scaring its inhabitants. In fact, what this unknown assailant is about to do could kill everyone inside if not discovered soon enough. What, exactly, is his plan? To set fire to the bushes that adorn the home’s front porch. This is something he succeeds in doing before the book goes back in time and introduces us to the family of four, leaving us wondering why someone would hate them so much.
Interestingly enough, more than one person seems to hate the Adlers, and for different reasons. Thomas is being blackmailed by a stripper who says he bit and choked her during a bachelor party, despite him knowing he got super drunk and passed out early. Viv, herself, has become a kleptomaniac; stealing whatever little trinket she can get her hands on while out. Meanwhile, Eli is traumatized from an event at college, which has made him not want to return, and he struggles with having been part of something so horrid. Tarryn, on the other hand, is a secret cam girl, who dons a wig and lacy lingerie before going online and turning her webcams on every time the clock strikes midnight.
It seems that someone, or a group of someones, has uncovered the Adlers’ secrets. Perhaps not all of them, but more than one. Thomas is being blackmailed, Tarryn gets odd messages, and Eli is being told to keep his mouth shut. At the same time, ‘kids’ have started throwing things at their Arlington Heights home. It starts with eggs, then moves on to tomatoes and worse.
The Perfect Family chronicles these events from the Adlers’ four separate points-of-view. Chapter by chapter, we move from one member of the family to another, in an order that never really seems to change. We’re there, reading their thoughts and actions, as they unravel from stress, worry and fear. The result is a character study, which follows four different people as they get pushed towards the edge by the unknown.
This novel caught my eye when it appeared on NetGalley, but I didn’t get reading it until a seven day rental copy appeared at my local library. I snatched it up, started it that night, and ploughed through it in several days. The reason is that this is the type of book that makes you want to find out what will happen next, and makes you eager to discover who’s behind everything. Was the payoff worth it? Yes. For the most part, at least.
I had never read anything by Robyn Harding before, but I was pretty impressed with the quality of her writing, and her general writing style. This is a well written book, and one that was easy to read over the course of its 335-odd pages. Its characters are deep, they’re all flawed but somewhat likeable, and it’s hard to put down. I’m glad I picked it up in the first place.
If you’re looking for an interesting, thought provoking and somewhat original thriller, check out The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding. It’s a good book to cozy up with on a cool autumn or winter night.
This review is based on a book that we were originally provided with. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for doing so. Receiving a free copy did not sway our views.