Gillian Flynn made “domestic noir” a thing with Gone Girl. And ever since the normal household has become the setting for many thrillers. There are no great detectives or scheming villains – just your seemingly normal everyday family members dealing with seemingly normal everyday family issues. The word “seemingly” is to be stressed here, for not everything in these scenario seems to be what it is.
And that is exactly the case with Robyn Harding’s latest potential bestseller, The Perfect Family. As its title indicates, the Adlers seem like the perfect family – a husband with a good job, a devoted wife and mother who also works as a designer, a son studying in a prestigious college and a daughter who is finishing school. They also have a wonderful house and live in a posh neighbourhood.
So why is that wonderful house being attacked by vandals? It begins with a few things thrown at windows and then graduates to more…serious attacks. And as the family struggles to figure out why this is happening, you start to discover the cracks beneath that perfect front. For, all four of them have their own demons, and each wonders if what he or she has done is actually the reason for these attacks. And as the attacks get worse, the “perfect family” turns out to be anything but that – the wife suspects her husband of cheating and is herself a bit of a kleptomaniac, the husband has done something he regrets and wants to forget but is being blackmailed about it, and well, both the children have huge problems of their own ranging from an identity crisis to witnessing a shocking assault. It literally is a gunpowder barrel which gets ignited when the attacks on the house start.
It is around this plot that Harding weaves her magic. And unlike some authors, she keeps things very simple. The focus never moves away from the family – the story is told from the perspectives of each of the four members. There are not too many characters to muddle matters, and the language is fluent to keep the book moving at a brisk pace. And it is its speed that makes The Perfect Family quite the read. The chapters are short, the plot twists reasonably plenty and best of all, Harding is able to capture the tension within the family brilliantly. Fans of action and fisticuffs will not find much here, but if it is suspense and tension you seek, it drips out of the pages.
While you start by wondering about the attacks on the house, your focus steadily shifts to the changing equations in the family, and you will find yourself liking and despising all four of them at different times – again a tribute to Harding’s narration. There are no clear cut heroes or villains. In fact, as things get worse, you wonder how actually all this is going to work out with all four people pulling in seemingly different directions, and at times not even seeming to like each other, family or no family.
If there is a flaw, it is perhaps in the climax, which turns out to be a little unsatisfactory, with a few loose ends, although Harding does leave a twist in the tale with the very last sentence. Perhaps we expected far too much given the superb build up and very sharp character sketches that Harding serves up. Still, all said and done, The Perfect Family is the perfect page turner for those who want a book to race through while being entertained. I got through its 350 odd pages in a day. This is riveting, tense and incredibly slick storytelling at its best. Not the book for those looking for complex, convoluted plots and eccentric detectives, but if you just want to know how normal life can be wrecked by a few incidents, this is the book for you.