Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: A Woman Alone

By Jami Denison

There are two camps of people when it comes to technology: Those who love the ease of using facial recognition to open their iPhones, and those who are convinced that Bill Gates is developing a COVID-19 vaccine so he can surreptitiously plant trackers in their arms. Both groups should enjoy A Woman Alone, the latest psychological thriller from Nina Laurin. When the Holmes family—Scott, Cecelia, and their 3-year-old daughter Taryn--moves into a SmartHome in the IntelTech city of Venture, Illinois, they willingly agree to be chipped in order to make the most of the technology. Now they have a house with a door that automatically unlocks just for them, a shower that turns on at just the right temperature, a car that automatically drives Cecelia to Taryn’s daycare, and a coffee maker that makes every cup perfectly. Who wouldn’t want to live this way?

The technological bliss is short-lived, as minor glitches in the house’s programming—Cecelia gets the wrong coffee—turn dangerous, and Cecelia feels her complaints are ignored by the company that runs Venture. When the house begins calling Cecelia “Lydia,” Cecelia becomes convinced that the previous owner was killed in the home—even though IntelTech insists that the Holmes family is the only family to live at that address. While Scott thinks that Cecelia is suffering from PTSD after being attacked in their previous home, Cecelia believes one of their neighbors is spying on her. After learning that other residents of Venture are also high-profile crime victims, Cecelia tries to find out if this common link is the reason her house is trying to kill her. 

A Woman Alone is built around a fantastic concept that is both timely and timeless. Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, fiction has almost always sounded a warning that science leads to destruction—think Godzilla, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Fly; any of the Jurassic Park movies. The theme of these works is always the same: Even when a scientist with the best of intentions tries to play God, innocent people get hurt or killed. 

The innocent victim is a necessary ingredient for this recipe to work, and it’s here that I think Laurin went off the rails a bit. Two years ago, when I reviewed Laurin’s What My Sister Knew, I felt the same way—a strong story diluted by an unlikeable protagonist. While I’m not a reader who believes that all protagonists must be likeable, I do think that in a thriller—especially one in which the protagonist is accused of being paranoid by others in the story—the protagonist needs to be a stand-in for the reader. When the reader cannot identify with the protagonist, she doesn’t care if the protagonist ultimately becomes a victim. (Last summer’s thriller bestseller about too-good-to-be-true real estate, Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door, is a great example of how this works.) 

Cecelia is not an everywoman, and as the reader learns more about her past, it becomes harder and harder to root for her. And the ultimate reveal turns on coincidences that are hard to swallow. Rather than proving that too much science is a bad thing, Laurin’s theme turned out to be another timeless classic: What goes around comes around.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Nina Laurin:

No comments: