"The Perfect Son" by Lauren North
Not to be cliche — which is what you say immediately before you are cliche — but, having kids is a life-changing experience.
My first child was a whoopsy baby who I had early in my marriage when my husband and I, both 26 at the time, were still fully rested and wrinkle-free.
What I remember most about that experience was that it all seemed... hypothetical.
My logical mind knew that there was a baby growing in my belly and that, really fucking soon, it would come out. But, at the time, that thought was so intense, so serious, so unexpected, that it never really felt real.
But then, one day, he did come out.
And then they put him on my chest.
And I instantly loved him so much that I wanted to squeeze him until he stopped breathing.
*which is a totally normal biological reaction I would note. I'm not just some crazy baby squeezer. Seriously*
From that moment on, I would have done literally anything for my child.
And I think that's pretty normal.
After all, parents bond with their babies out of biological necessity.
Otherwise early man would have just left that wrinkly little thing by the watering hole the first time it kept the whole cave up with its squawking.
Because I know it's normal, and it just happens without any real contemplation, I don’t often actually pause to think about the bond between myself and my son(s).
But then I read this book.
As I moved through the pages of this novel — which focuses on a mother navigating the loss of a husband and dealing with the resulting renegotiation of her relationship with her young son — I did nothing but think about my love for my children and what such a disruptive tragedy would mean for us.
Losing your husband is always an excruciatingly intense experience, but the way in which our protagonist, Tess, lost her beloved husband, Mark, was particularly traumatizing.
While heading off on a business trip, his life was cut short by a depressed pilot who deliberately flew a full passenger jet into the ground, killing not only himself and Mark, but all souls on board.
When news of the tragedy reaches Tess, her response is as you would expect. Devastated beyond words, she wants only to isolate herself in her bedroom and hide under the covers until the pain — which will almost certainly never fully go away — at least dulls.
But she can’t.
Because she has to be there for her son Jamie.
She has to be the strong one.
Mark’s death makes her a single mother, which means that Jamie has only her to depend upon.
In an effort to more quickly return to a state of at least reasonable productivity, Tess starts spending time with Shelley, a grief counselor who shows up on her doorstep one day at the behest of Tess’s mother.
Shelley knows what Tess is feeling because she lost someone close to her, too — her son. With Shelley’s support, Tess starts to make some progress.
But then new pressures come into play.
First in the form of Mark’s brother, Ian, who insists that he loaned Mark £100,000 before his death. Ian is demanding the money back and pushing Tess — who can barely dress herself let alone deal with complex legal matters — to move forward with the execution of Mark’s will so that he can have access to the funds.
Then Tess starts to suspect that Shelley isn’t all she says she is. After overhearing a few seemingly suspicious calls and experiencing some potentially-too-coincidental events, Tess begins to think that Shelley isn’t being completely upfront and honest.
Unsure of who to trust and unable to move forward on her own in her emotionally and physically weakened state, Tess continues to struggle to build a new life.
Little does she know, there is a lot more to her struggles than meets the eye.
Tess’s troubles are more deep-seated — her problems more severe — than even she realizes.
But the whole truth may be more than one person can bear.
With creative formatting and continual timeline jumps, debut author Lauren North manages to capture readers’ attention from the beginning. She starts her story with a bang, beginning in the relative chaos following some unknown traumatic incident and spending the rest of the novel flashing back to the events preceding the most recent catastrophe.
Unfortunately, many of the flashback sections — which made up probably 85% of the novel — dragged significantly due to continual repetition of scenes in which our protagonist did pretty much nothing but wallow in her grief.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I'm not a heartless bitch. I do understand that if the husband you loved dearly died not just in any old accident but in a totally avoidable and pretty unexplainably tragic way you would experience a protracted period of grief.
I get it.
But me understanding that, in reality, this would happen doesn’t make it interesting to read.
I had a similar issue with Mary Kubica’s Every Last Lie — which, come to think of it, does make me seem like a heartless See-You-Next-Tuesday who thinks women should just act all robot-like, dust themselves off, and apply a fresh coat of lipstick following the death of a spouse.
Ultimately, though, the degree to which the protagonist was mired in her grief initially made it really hard for me to get into the novel. It was just So. So. So. Full of woe-is-me-my-life-is-in-shambles-I-can’t-even-brush-my-hair-on-the-daily-let-alone-care-of-my-dependent-son wallowing.
In all fairness, this problem would have been incredibly hard to remedy. The author couldn’t not show the protagonist's grief. It was pretty integral to the story. But, as it was laid out, this almost overwhelming moroseness slowed my usual brisk reading pace to a laborsome wade and resulted in me not enjoying the narrative as much as I otherwise would have.
Despite the fact that I had to push myself through some of this novel, I am so unbelievably grateful I did.
Because of the twist.
The twist in this novel was fucking amazing.
Though I went into this book without any preconceived notions, as I read, I started to piece together possible conclusions — hypothesizing what the resolution might entail.
But, let me tell you, I was utterly, gloriously, entirely wrong.
I absolutely did not see the conclusion of this novel coming.
And I almost never get to say that.
Somehow, despite the twist being completely out of the blue, it was totally, unequivocally, believable.
Which made it so fucking satisfying.
Based on the strength of the twist alone — ‘cause ya’ll know Mamma loves a good twist — I really wanted to give this novel 5 cocktails.
But, when thinking back on the book as a whole work, I simply couldn’t.
The narrative arc, the twist, the ultimate originality were all bewildering.
But the lag at the beginning — the process of working towards the twist which was, I have to say, laborious for the readers at times — simply can’t be overlooked.
Essentially, it was a perfect story.
It just wasn't told in the perfect way.
And, because of that, it earns a still incredibly respectable 4 out of 5 cocktails.
I would absolutely recommend this novel… mainly because I want to talk to other people who have read it about that 🤯 twist. So please, read it and then comment below (*Spoiler Alert*ing your posts of course) so we can talk about this puppy!
Let’s check out the old bookshelf and see what I’mma read next. Want to see what I pick? Follow me, here.