Atria Publishing; 8/4/20
review copy; 320 pages
Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins is a recommended, maybe, psychological thriller.
Fern Douglas, 32, is certain she recognizes a missing woman from
Maine named Astrid Sullivan. When Fern sees Astrid's photo, she is sure
she knew her when they were younger. Her husband thinks this is because
Astrid was kidnapped twenty years ago, when she was fourteen, and the
case, which occurred near Fern's hometown in New Hampshire, was widely
publicized. Her incredible return was also across the news. As she
starts to have nightmares about Astrid as a girl, Fern thinks she may
hold the clue to Astrid's current whereabouts, because she also thinks
her nightmares may be memories. Fern is going back to her hometown to
help her father pack for his move to Florida. While there she plans to
look into Astrid's disappearance years ago to see if it will provide
clues to her memories/nightmares and perhaps lead to the location of
Fern's parents are a real piece of work. Her father is a psychologist
who studies fear and fear responses who used Fern as an experimental
subject for his research for her whole childhood. Fern's mother simple
ignored her, treating her like a house guest. As a result of her
parent's psychological and emotional abuse, Fern grew up starved for
affection and traumatized. Throughout the plot are Fern's recollections
of many of her father's experiments on her and her responses.
Now, the narrative is focused on Fern looking for answers about Astrid's kidnapping years ago and her memories surrounding it. Fern herself is a bundle of neuroses. She's paranoid, nervous, has ticks and spirals into obsessive thought patterns. Simply put, she's a difficult character to connect with, although most readers will feel great sympathy for her surviving such a traumatic childhood. There are two huge, overwhelming questions that totally detracted from the novel: Why didn't Fern's therapist encourage her to set boundaries with her father and stay away from him for her own mental health? and Why did Fern go to help her father pack? (Why would you help someone who put you through that abuse as a child? Why would you even allow them in your lives in any capacity?) I know, I know, Stockholm syndrome, dissociative disorders, codependency, traumatic bonding, etc., etc... Still, accepting she'd go back to "help" him is a huge part of the novel. Uh, NO.
My final thought is that this novel is predictable right from start
to finish. I kept reading, expecting some sort of twist or surprise and,
nope, I knew what was happening from the start and nothing altered that
assessment. Two things kept me read: looking for the twist and the
quality of the writing is good. Collins just needs to work on her plots
in the future. 2.5 but I'm rounding up.