Monday, January 11, 2021

Book Review: Confessions on the 7:45

By Jami Denison

The impulse to bare one’s soul to the stranger sitting next to you is a popular trope in fiction. And while I’ve never had the impulse to say more than “hello” to my seatmate, the existence of advice columnists, “AITA” subreddits, and anonymous confessional websites point to the real-life popularity of this cliché. Now Clearwater, Florida author Lisa Unger has used this scenario as the basis of her latest thriller, Confessions on the 7:45. And while the book starts out in an expectable way, Unger takes the plot in completely unpredictable directions. 

Catching the later train home, Selena Murphy tells her seatmate, Martha, that her husband Graham is having an affair with their nanny Geneva. It should be a harmless revelation, a way to deal with the stress and tension of her knowledge. But then Geneva disappears… and Martha texts Selena. Only Selena never gave Martha her phone number… 

Confessions seems like it will unfold in a manner similar to movies with the same plot, and I wondered what Martha would want from Selena in return. But Unger is too good a writer, and soon it becomes obvious that she is not retelling a familiar story. Selena’s is not the book’s only point-of-view; Anne, the woman on the train who calls herself Martha, also tells her own tale, and it’s a complicated one. Selena is pulled in two directions: Tell the cops about Martha, and she implicates herself. Tell the cops about Graham and Geneva, and she implicates Graham. She’s stuck, and the police aren’t stupid. As the narrative progresses, it turns out that Selena is a bit of an unreliable narrator. The reader doesn’t get the complete picture of her marriage or of the home she grew up in until events in the book demand the missing details. 

 Beyond the question of the missing nanny—who turns out be less innocent than first seen—is the question of what type of family Selena owes her children, Oliver and Stephen. Is it really better to stay together for the sake of the kids? What happens to kids who grow up in a family of lies? Selena knows the answer—her own father was a cheater as well, and she always judged her mother for staying in the marriage. But her mother kept her father’s secrets too well, and those secrets reverberate onto Selena’s life. 

Unger throws plenty of balls in the air, and she juggles them like a master. By the end of the novel, all threads are neatly tied up, coincidences dispensed with, and reader satisfaction achieved. My one quibble is that a character who turns out to be very important is never seen on the canvas. Confessions on the 7:45 is a masterful, surprising thriller that readers will not be able to put down until the end.

Thanks to Park Row for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Lisa Unger:

1 comment:

Dianna said...

I loved this one! Lisa Unger is one of my favorite authors.