“I was never able to sit still when this thing was happening between them- my mother silently brooding and my father prancing around like a circus clown trying to cheer her up. It made me feel rage inside because he couldn’t see anything.”
The only thing I imagine that would be worse for a child with such a mother, would be if both parents were narcissists. Maybe their partners come off as ‘weaker’ or maybe they are just kinder beings that are used to wanting to please others, to make people happy and in such a spouse, they will never succeed. This novel is fictional, but it is a reality for some children to grow up with dysfunctional parents- some so used to the cruelty that they don’t know what normal looks like. If they’re lucky, they get away and are able to recover from their twisted upbringing. Just what does abuse look like when you don’t have bruises and all the violence is psychological warfare? Some children learn to move forward through the land mines that they know will set their parent off. Others can’t help but be themselves and are an easy target for punishment. Each child, however, is damaged in their own terrible way.
One night the Tanner sisters disappeared, years later only come comes back. Cass comes home without her sister with a crazy story of being taken and held captive on an island. She can’t quite say where it is, but she swears she must rescue her sister Emma. Dr. Winter must navigate the wild in her story and sort fact from fiction, solid order from the chaos in the tale Cass spins. Just what really happened to the Tanner sister the night they disappeared and the three years between? How much can she trust the story Cass tells, convoluted as it is? There is a baby, her sister’s and a couple who promised to help her. Dr. Winter knows something isn’t right, just as she intuitively feels something is sour with their mother, Judy Martin. She felt it for a long time, it was all there- something toxic in that home. With Cass back, she thinks she will finally have the truth, but the truth is slippery at best and we all have our reasons for lies.
Cass has a story to tell, one full of holes, half-truths, outright lies, swearing she is the only chance they have of finding Emma. She learned about the power of lies, subterfuge at her mother’s cold knee. The Tanner sister’s mother was between them always, poisoning the bond the two should have held fast to in order to survive their twisted mother. One learned to please, the other was punished for not knowing how. This was one of the most solid creations in the story. With narcissists, when children are involved, they know how to snub out one child and praise another. It is damaging and sickening, it is a power, a way to play God. People often wonder how in families one child can be tortured and others treated ‘normally’ but do the others truly escape the same abuse? Isn’t there cruelty in seeing a sibling humiliated, demeaned be it physically or psychologically? Some do what they have to do to dodge being victimized themselves, it’s so much harder for children to be brave, it’s why bullies on the school yard can get nice kids to go along with tormenting other children (at least it’s not me). Parents are the example, we learn how to treat not just the world but our siblings through their own actions. If a parent is a master manipulator, God help the children, because if they begin to become aware of the wrongness of their parent, no one would believe them anyway. If by some miracle someone does, these master’s of deception wear a beautiful face in public that other’s chose to see, rather than the darkness that lurks beneath. This is more real they we admit, this is why your next door neighbor can be a pillar of society and be beating their children behind closed doors. They know how to blend in, we are happy with the costumes people wear, it’s more comfortable than looking past the smiles. Cass just might be able to use this very blindness in people to survive.
Is Cass good? Is she bad? Something in between? Rage can be useful, a driving force- but is it something more she has to protect? What has she done to survive? Can the reader trust her? Can Dr. Winter? Will she be able to help them find her sister, one whom she longed to be and resented for her perfection and mother’s attention? You’ll have to read. This is a twisted, psychological tale.
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
St. Martin’s Press