Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication date: August 8th 2017
Apparently, I’ve moved from dystopian novels this summer to thrillers. On Monday I reviewed See What I Have Done a novel about Lizzie Borden, which I found fascinating more for its bizarre family dynamics than the actual murders. Now I’m back with Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker, a contemporary novel with a family that makes the Bordens look like the Brady Bunch. After being missing for three years, eighteen-year-old Cass shows up on her mother’s doorstep and tells an astonishing story of what happened to her and her older sister Emma after they disappeared. It’s a story of an older couple and an island off the coast of Maine. She has escaped, but her sister is still there and time is running out. But, for the forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Abby Winter, who originally helped search for the girls years ago, something doesn’t add up. Actually, plenty of things don’t add up, but can she get answers before it’s too late?
Walker pieces together Emma in the Night using Cass and Dr. Winter as the speakers. As Cass supplies more and more precise details of her captivity, Dr. Winter provides insight into the psychology of narcissistic disorder—something it seems Cass’s mother, suffered from and inflicted on her daughters. Chapter by chapter more dysfunction emerges and it spreads until every member of the family is shown to be manipulating the others for their own twisted benefit. The girls battle between themselves for their mother’s fleeting attention and then after their parents’ divorce they pit their parents against each other in deciding where they want to live. When mother’s new boyfriend moves in, with his teenage son, the games ratchet up a notch. Until Emma decides it’s time to take control by finding someone willing to help and leaving the snake pit behind.
Except, of course, it doesn’t work that well. Help comes at a price and in Emma in the Night everyone has a motive. For me, this brought on a raging case of skepticism almost from the very beginning. Cass was simply too aware of her performance in front of her family and investigators. Which is not to say she had any involvement at all because, if nothing else, Walker creates a world where nothing and no one can be believed. These contortions went too far for my taste, but if you’re looking for fast summer reading that messes with your mind and then makes your head explode, Emma in the Night is the right book.
I have been seeing this book all over the internet. Now I want to see what all the fuss is about.
Sarah's Book Shelves says
Awh – wish you’d liked this more – sorry to lead you astray! I wonder if my totally chaotic life right now allowed me to just enjoy this book for what it is and not think too hard about how aware Cass was of her performance (she was!). Her awareness was also one of the things that mad me not trust her..and everyone else in the book. Which was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much…waffling over who to trust the entire time I was reading!
I absolutely think it’s what you have going on! For whatever reason, a slower pace is still working for me. Plus, I was so distrustful that it was hard to care, if that makes sense. She did a great job of constant surprises.
I was a bit middle-of-the-road-ish on this one, too, Catherine, but might have liked it a bit more than you did. I am fascinated by narcissism (and narcissistic mothers in particular), so the detail on that front was great. I thought the Dr. Winter character was used more as a tool to get those ideas across and wasn’t fleshed out enough as her own individual for my taste. I enjoyed the multiple layers of manipulation and thought it was a tricky thing to pull off and she did it well. There were a lot of moving parts, but I flew through it because it kept me wondering.
Katie @ Doing Dewey says
Their family was as messed up as the Bordens, super creepy, and I definitely also got the sense through the end that we might turn out to have an unreliable narrator. I can also see feeling like the author was trying to hard or making up something too complex to be real, but it ended up working for me. I think I was in just the right mood for a crazy thriller and I couldn’t put this down 🙂
I totally get it! I just finished The Visitors and it’s fairly implausible, but I went along with it! It’s all so subjective.