We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I do know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it. If we really try to see it.
When my sister and I disappeared three years ago, there was nothing but blindness.
So begins Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night, the story of a heroine returned home after a harrowing kidnapping. A survival story. Or maybe narrator Cassandra, sister of the missing Emma in the title, the Emma of the night, is finally returning to an abusive home she managed to escape for years. A different kind of survival story.
Emma in the Night dives headlong into that most intimate and tortured of female bonds, the relationship between daughter and mother. This isn’t a We Need to Talk About Kevin, although it certainly wants to be. It explores narcissism and motherhood and who we become based on who raises us, all wrapped in a strange, island-set mystery that feels part Lost and part Hamptons.
Women have always written some of the best psychological thrillers. Those of us in love with thrillers knew this pre- and post-Gone Girl era. Since Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier we’ve known that women understand a certain simmering torture, and do it well. We’re all Gone Girls, taught to swallow our anger and cough up a smile. And Cassandra wears this struggle well, a struggle to be something to everyone, the detectives, her family, even the reader.
Other reviews of this book are all over the map – some people hated the long drawn out exposition as Cassandra flashes back to her kidnapping, and I get that. Flashing back as a plot device in thrillers is overused, and we should have little tolerance for it. But me, personally? There wasn’t a moment I wasn’t enthralled by Cassandra’s story, caught up in her odd tale, and totally lost in trying to decipher where the truth in her strange words could live. I didn’t find the back and forth, so often utilized to delay a lack of actual mystery, distracting.
There is nothing like that heady foggy thrill of being lost in a world that makes no sense at all, but promises to, if you keep forging ahead. And Emma in the Night is one of those worlds, built on remote islands and bizarre memories of strange encounters in the dark. It’s built on a family broken or a girl lying, or both. If you’re a fan of that sort of dark domestic thriller that turns home life into horror, then pick it up. Just be ready to not put it down.