"The Two Lila Bennetts" by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
During my second pregnancy I started to develop this... quirk.
And by "quirk" I mean probably diagnosable mental health issue.
I started to feel like choices I made — small choices like what pajamas to put my son in, what bra to wear, which water glass to pull from the cupboard — would make a major difference in my life.
I felt like, if I didn't select this particular pair of shoes...hair tie...fork, something would go wrong.
And not some minor, forgettable something.
Something that, while random and currently undefined, would be life-fucking-changing.
So I would sit there and debate.
I would pull out one plate and hold it and think about how it made me feel. And, if I didn’t feel right, I would put it back and get another.
Sometimes I would do this several times, before finally settling because, in truth, it never really felt right.
Though I get these feelings less frequently than I did when I was pregnant with my now three year old, I do still get them — particularly in times of extreme stress.
And, I have to tell you something, this novel has done nothing to in any way reduce that tendency. Because, as it would turn out, a small choice made all the difference for Lila Bennett, the protagonist of this newest novel by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.
A renowned attorney who makes the vast majority of her money defending the questionably innocent, Lila Bennett has, for quite some time, had a complicated relationship with the concept of truth.
Recently, that relationship has become even murkier as she isn’t just — often knowingly — lying professionally, but also personally. For the last six months, Lila has been having an affair with Sam, her co-worker and, to make matters worse, the husband of her best friend.
As the book opens, Lila secures a victory in a highly publicized case by convincing the jury that though her client might give them — and her, tbh — the heebee-jeebees, there simply isn’t enough evidence to prove that he murdered his wife.
Her husband, writers-blocked-novelist Ethan, wants her to rush home to celebrate with him. But, when Sam invites her out for a celebratory drink and dinner, she finds herself torn.
Unbeknownst to Lila, everything hinges on this decision.
If she accompanies Sam, she won’t end her night driving home to her well-appointed house and plying her husband with lame excuses. Instead, she’ll be drugged and kidnapped by an unknown perpetrator who will lock her in a cell and subject her to some pretty fucking creative torture, which will test her both physically and mentally.
If she turns down the invitation, she’ll remain free.
But she won’t be off the hook.
Unfortunately for her, someone is out there.
Plotting her demise.
Planning her destruction.
Pining for her eventual ruin.
Someone on the long list of people that Lila has wronged wants her to finally pay for her decades of immoral, unethical and dishonorable behavior.
And he or she won’t stop until justice is served.
Reminiscent of the decidedly-less-murder-y Gwyneth Paltrow classic, Sliding Doors, this inarguably distinctive thriller succeeds in leaving readers guessing right up until the end.
With two timelines running parallel to each other, this book is hard not to read at a breakneck pace, the constant peril in which the protagonist finds herself making putting it down tantamount to impossible.
Along with the delightfully intense tension, the prose itself was a definite strength. The way in which this story was told was fluid and linguistically diverse and just generally enjoyable to read.
I think the robustness of the writing can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that this was a co-written novel.
In this novel — as I’ve noticed in other co-written works — there seemed to be significantly more diversity in the overall tone and feel of the writing.
In my experience, all writers have a sound — a cadence — to their writing. But when you read a co-written book it's often less... monotonous. Because this cadence is broken up with syncopated beats injected by another writer.
A writer who has his or her own style.
And because I care so much about the words and about how they — for lack of a better word — feel, this variety truly enhances my nerdy enjoyment of the text as a whole.
I wish I could say that this novel left me absolutely fulfilled and wanting for nothing. However, that wasn’t quite the case — though it was admittedly close.
As I finished the novel and thought back on it as a whole work, I had this nagging feeling that it was missing something.
Not something serious and major and easy to pinpoint.
Something as hard to grasp as those fleeting feelings of potential doom that sometimes govern my choices.
After several days of reflection, I finally figured out what it was.
It needed more Sam.
Sam, the co-worker and husband to her best friend.
Sam, who was irresistible enough to lead Lila to stray from her — admittedly troubled — marriage and betray her — inarguable devoted — best friend.
We barely saw him, so all we really knew about him was what we were told. And, for me, this left the character feeling a little flat. And, because the character felt flat, I had a hard time understanding how Lila could have risked so much for a tawdry, cliché, workplace affair.
Despite this — admittedly minor — critique, The Two Lila Bennetts is a solid, well-paced and distinctively formatted thriller that readers won’t be able to ingest in nibbles, but instead will devour in huge, hungry bites.
It earns a commanding 4 out of 5 cocktails.
Lila Bennett certainly made some questionable life choices. Despite this, I couldn’t help but root for her. Have you ever read a book where you rooted for a character who could be called amoral? Tell me about it in the comments, below.
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