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Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry

[Spoiler Warning] This debut novel by Christina Berry is impressively written and engaging. I was struck immediately by her deft hand with words, the quick pacing, and her expert handling of interpersonal relationships, especially during scenes with tense family situations. And this novel is chock full of those. I was also highly impressed with the plotting, though I must be honest that I found the final surprise (which I saw coming) to be too mind-bending to be believed. Yet the twists and turns Berry planned to execute the story are impressive and show amazing skill. In fact, I was glued all the way to the last sentence. So the novel kept me captivated, even though the story resolution didn't seem credible.

As I got into the story, a couple of red flags went up in my mind about where the story was going. This line in the product description, in my opinion, gives a little too much away: "Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to." Right from the get-go, readers are told that Craig is up to no good, short-circuiting a good deal of the potential suspense. Though it was obvious that Craig was up to something, I was hopeful that this wouldn't be another bad-husband novel; surely he would be sympathetic somehow by the end, right? Unfortunately, I was disappointed. For all the games to try to convince readers otherwise, this truth never changes. Craig is just a no-good, cheating husband; and Denise, though flawed, seems to be a little too good to be true. (Keep in mind that I'm a husband and was reading the novel from a man's point of view, so I'm probably biased.)  

I was also suspicious about what would happen with the whole I-have-amnesia-and-can't-remember-who-I-am device, which has been used too many times in books and movies to count. Don't get me wrong. I'm okay with an amnesia angle as long as the author does something original with it. And I must say that Berry, to her credit, did put a creative spin on this worn and tired device, breathing new life into it. By the end, however, I was left with one question that made the whole plot crumble for me. How could a wife like Denise not know her own husband? (In fact, neither does her pastor or her kids. How could that be?) He doesn't remember who he is, but how come nobody else does? This fact appears to get overlooked for the sake of advancing the plot. The fact that Denise doesn't know Craig well enough to spot all the obvious clues that something else is going on is a bleak commentary on the shallowness of their marriage and of Denise's relationship with her husband. 

In spite of my quibbles, I was impressed with the overall presentation and spiritual themes of this novel, though I personally would have preferred that one adult-oriented scene had been left out. I liked the fact that Denise and other characters prayed a lot and that Denise was a good role model in showing how to handle her complex situation biblically. For a debut novel, this is an impressive effort that had me hooked, and I'm interested in seeing what Berry does next.

1 comment:

  1. Adam, wow! I appreciate the huge amount and thought that went into this review. :)

    Completely agree with the idea that the back cover gave too much away. I would have preferred a blank back! :) However, Moody was trying to create interest and at least let a reader know what kind of a read he was in for.

    The twist at the end was brought on by my questioning the very thing you didn't feel was answered. A real life circumstance left me questioning, "BUT how could they not know?" so I wrote this partially in an attempt to explore that. I love the reasons you came up with.

    BTW, if you want to know what true event I'm referencing, just drop me a line at christina [at] christinaberry [dot] net.

    Thanks again for reading and opining!!