Title: Behind Her Eyes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: Flatiron Books
I picked up this book at one of the author’s recent Portland appearances. Knew very little of it beforehand, but I’d been most favorably impressed by everything else of hers I’d read, and people were saying good things, and the whole growing breakthrough best-seller take the world by storm buzz. Besides, signed copy, I’m often a sucker for a signed copy!
Anyway, so, there I was at the reading, and during the Q/A someone mentioned the ending in a “no spoilers but holy wow that ending!” kind of way, which further intrigued me. I dove right in and was instantly engaged, instantly immersed.
The story’s about secrets, and obsession, and love, and betrayal. Louise is recently divorced, doing the working-mom / shared-custody juggling act, which leaves her little time for herself or a social life. When she does meet an interesting guy, he then turns out to be not only married but her new boss, making extra awkwardness all around. To step it up even further, Louise then finds herself becoming friends with his wife … without letting on to either that she knows the other … and the more she gets to know them, the more enmeshed she becomes, the more thoroughly entangled in their the complex turbulence of their marriage.
A situation like this could have the makings of a light-hearted farce or rom-com, one of those hilarious Shakespearean cases of mistaken identities and misunderstandings, where after some tribulations, everything sorts itself out and works out okay. It could, but, this is not that situation. This is a situation of pain, torment, temptation, agonizing choices, troubled pasts, and slowly-unveiling threats of physical danger.
Fascinating stuff, intense human drama, even without the other less-normal elements … the characters are presented so well, so multi-faceted and true … I’d find myself believing and sympathizing with one, then another, then having distrust and second-guessing, then chastising, then rooting for, then wanting to smack them … around and around, just like real people, nothing one-dimensional here.
I was also rolling along feeling fairly smug and pleased with myself because I thought I’d figured it out, I thought I knew what was going on. Oh, pride before the fall! THAT ENDING was a wallop, a rug-pulled-out-from-under. Not an utter shock of an out-of-nowhere blindside; all the clues really had been there … but the way they fit together … it was like one of those optical illusions where you know there’s something, but you don’t see it, but you know it’s there, and then something CLICKS in your brain and THERE IT IS.
Wow. I mean, wow. I mean, I had to drop a note to the author just ALL-CAPS HOLY *BLEEP* to get it out of my system before attempting a serious review. Yet, here I am doing that serious review and I’m still ALL-CAPS HOLY *BLEEP*. My head is full of thunderclap fireworks, just all concussive sonic boom and flash-dazzle afterimages, even now a few days later.
Other reviewers have said, and I add my voice to theirs, READ THIS NOW. NOW NOW NOW. Don’t let anybody spoil it for you. Not only is the read itself a remarkable experience of building and deepening psychological terror, not only is it a vivid and inescapable drawing-in to the twisted dark complexities of emotion and relationships …
THAT ENDING! That wallop! That moment where suddenly, and, as the kids say, you just can’t even. I just couldn’t even. I still can’t even. I mean, I read a lot; I reviewed 120 books last year; I’ve been a reader all my life; I sometimes feel like I’m getting old and jaded … and still. Still. Wow.
I literally (in the literal sense!) had to put it down when I was done and just go walk around for a while, my mind full of those thunderclap fireworks. I was speechless. I was awestruck. If anybody had been there to try and talk to me at that time, all I could’ve done was blink and shake my head and mutely gawp like a goldfish.
Basically, yeah, every good thing anybody’s been saying about this book? Truth. More than worthy of its spot on the best-seller lists. I know it’s only February, but for this NOT to be the best book I read all year, someone is going to have to come up with something pretty damn amazing. The bar has been set way high. Way, way high. Because … wow. Just wow. Thunderclap fireworks, rocked to the core. Wow.