Friday, September 6, 2019

Book Review: Too Close

By Jami Deise

The worst thing imaginable is the death of a child. The most monstrous crime imaginable is a parent who kills her own children. When a child is killed, it’s more often at the hands of a father, stepfather, or mother’s boyfriend. A woman who deliberately hurts her baby is almost beyond imagining. The cases are so rare that when a Susan Smith or a Casey Anthony occurs, the nation is transfixed.

In Too Close, author Natalie Daniels’s debut, British wife and mother Connie has been institutionalized with dissociative amnesia after driving into a river with her daughter and her daughter’s best friend in the back seat. Forensic psychiatrist Emma has been tasked with trying to make her remember how and why she committed the crime. Written from both women’s first-person points of view, and moving between past and present, Too Close attempts to show that the wrong set of circumstances can push anyone too far.

Too Close is an admirable debut and a mesmerizing book. I was as captivated as Emma was by Connie, wondering what would push this happy suburban mom – the British press called her the “Yummy Monster,” a take on the British slang “Yummy Mummy” – to commit the most unforgivable of crimes. Connie begins her story by describing her relationship with Ness, her best friend and neighbor. At first, it seems like Ness, who’s married to another woman, is going to become obsessed with Connie (she quickly adopts Connie’s haircut and perfume) and that the book would become a Tangerine-type thriller. But “too close” also describes Connie and Emma’s relationship, as Emma’s own back story and relationship issues begin to color her treatment of Connie.

Connie’s characterization is uneven – as can be expected for a psychiatric patient – in ways that I found off-putting as a reviewer. At times, her confrontations with Emma reminded me of Clarice and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, only Connie is the one who has the preternatural insight into Emma’s life. At other times, Connie comforts Emma as Emma’s life spirals downward. While Emma’s vulnerabilities made me sympathize with the psychiatrist, I was also impatient for an unbiased look at Connie’s actions.

And while I was happy that Connie’s story didn’t evolve into the cliché about a person being driven mad due to unrequited gay tendencies, I felt the outcome was even more cliched. True, Daniels’s careful character work makes the cliché she falls back on very specific to the people involved, but at the same time, I was disappointed. I wanted a solution more complex than what the author provided.

Then again, Susan Smith supposedly killed her children because her new boyfriend didn’t want to be tied down with small kids. Perhaps it’s the banality of evil that is the most monstrous part of stories like these.

Thanks to HarperCollins for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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