This is one of those books that leaves you questioning your life choices. Not because the content requires much reflection beyond “Why was this a choice?” More that you need to reflect why you wasted your time on such a sophomoric piece of writing. I read The Couple Next Door as part of my book club. It received wide praise, particularly on Goodreads, which I should know at this point to be wary of. That being said, I had seen this book in a lot of lists and in many places so I figured why not give it a shot? I am usually not a mystery lover and this has really underlined why.
Our bumbling protagonists, Anne and Marco, are fledgling parents of a six-month old baby. They are invited by their swanky friends next door to a party but they can’t bring their annoying baby with them. Their babysitter couldn’t make it so they go over on the condition that they check on the baby every 30 minutes. I won’t go into detail as to why this is poor writing. Your welcome. They leave the party, come home to find their daughter is gone. Then the most insane, poorly conceived plot unravels.
Let’s start first with some of the plot elements. I loved the idea of a couple (Anne and Marco) dealing with the issues of postpartum depression. What it can do to a relationship and how it affects the raising of a child – all of that. However, this is just a too-small sliver of this narrative. Which is honestly disappointing because it is something rarely talked about without being demonized (which Anne becomes, but I will get to that later).
The relationship between Anne’s extremely rich parents and Anne’s husband isn’t a new concept – no one is good enough for our daughter! But the idea of it is kind of weird. It’s not that he is a bad boy – albeit perhaps the fact that he drove her away in a motorcycle on one of their dates is scandalous! It’s the fact that he is … middle class? I mean, I know that there are classism issues that crop up in many a novel and real life but middle class ain’t all that bad. If he was like, a hillbilly or something, then I could see how Anne’s parents would put their foot down. No offense to hillbillies but that’s just too many levels to cross. But this plot element just seems forced. Also, Anne is way too blind about how each group feels about the other. She always seems confused or slighted when Marco brings up how her parents hate him. I mean, duh?
Most of the characters had some flesh to their bones but the detective is perhaps the worst character of all in that he has absolutely zero characterization. He is Mr. Detective. Everything he says is cliched and flat. We do not get an insight into what he is thinking beyond these inspired few sentences: “Rasbach will figure it out. The truth is there. It’s always there. It simply needs to be uncovered.” Seriously. These are real lines here. I can’t make this up. He had no emotion. It was as if he was a robot. In fact, I think he would have been far more interesting if that were the case.
It is written like a Lifetime movie – honestly, if they buy a script, I would not be surprised. There is even AMNESIA. People, let’s be clear. You cannot put a plot element of amnesia into anything and make it sound not ridiculous. I am truly sorry for those that have experience amnesia, but it’s true. Shari Lapena attempts to legitimize it by it being a part of her past but honestly, it just seems tacked on and grotesque.
As far as the demonization of Anne is concerned, the last few pages just flip the script and become insane. I think the author did not like the ending with the right people going away for the kidnapping – didn’t like that it was essentially neatly sewn up. She just wanted a gotcha moment. And it works for horror but this is… not.
The last lines are something to be treasured, for those of us that love irony. After the silly thing happens, Marco asks her what happened. And Anne, oh Anne. She answers him with the last lines of the book: “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
I want that engraved on my headstone, please. Jessica Tommaselli: I Don’t Know. I Don’t Remember.
And again, there are so many people IN LOVE with this book. Everywhere, there are instagram pictures of people drinking tea with the book, showing it with The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl (which were far better thrillers, emphasis on the thrill). Am I missing something?