I must admit I’m not generally a fan of the domestic thriller. The ones I’ve looked at seem to present a very narrow view both of women and of families, and to favour pace over prose.
I thought I’d give this a go though, because it includes that endlessly fascinating trope of escaping the rat race to live the dream.
Merry and Sam are living with their baby in rural Sweden, in a cottage he inherited from a relative. He is trying to establish himself as a filmmaker, she is caring for their baby, baking and growing vegetables. They have left their home in New York under slightly murky circumstances.
We see first the beauty of this new life, then its downsides. It is the arrival of Merry’s childhood friend, Frank (Frances), that brings things to a head.
The positive about this book is that the writing is gorgeous. You get a real sense of the beauty of the Swedish countryside and the appeal of the life they are living. Later, you see how the same setting can be claustrophobic and threatening. It’s the ideal combination – you get to both bask in Merry and Sam’s idyllic lifestyle, and to see it fall apart and realise it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
I didn’t enjoy the story, though. In part this is to do with the structure of the book. We already see the problems in Merry and Sam’s life before Frank’s arrival, then we have to repeat the same journey from envy to disillusionment from her point of view. When the crisis happens in their lives, there is a police investigation in which the protagonists are interviewed and go over much of the same ground yet again.
More than this, though, I found this book profoundly depressing in what it says about women. There are various archetypes in the book, all of them negative. Frank is successful in her career and travels the world but it’s only because her mother didn’t love her enough. She’d give it up in a heartbeat to have what Merry has.
Merry feels confined by her new life but can’t think what else to do. Sam takes it for granted that Merry should do all the household chores. Neither Merry nor Frank seem to think any less of him for it, nor to question what they themselves expect.
The three protagonists are depressingly predictable. There is no grit that makes them run against type, no sense that they have complex emotions and drives that exist beyond the frame of the story. I had a strong reaction to the twist at the end, but I don’t think it was the one I was meant to have.
Sam is a former anthropologist with an interest in masks and Merry was a set designer. They are interesting choices but I didn’t feel the implications were explored. Are these characters more interesting than they appear? Has their potential been stifled by the limited roles they are allowed to play? Or were they made for this?
I received a copy of You Were Made for This from the publisher via Netgalley.
View You Were Made for This on Goodreads
For a more interesting and nuanced domestic noir, take a look at my review of The Woman in the Window