June 2018 – The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
blog by Cindy Bushey
Nothing succeeds like success – a self-evident adage manifested in the popularity of novels such as Gone Girl, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Girl on the Train. When Zion’s Book Club’s June selection was announced, many of its readers expected another story on much the same lines with the main character being a “broken-wing” woman to quote one of our members. Pleasant surprise – The Woman in the Window is a break with that genre. Instead, it revitalizes an older form of suspense story epitomized in the then-groundbreaking movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1950’s and 1960’s. To minds desensitized (and offended) by the graphic gore that seems to be the routine depths to which suspense and horror stories have sunk today, reading this book was like a housecleaning that allowed those same minds to picture the fear and feel the suspense and anxiety. As Hitchcock knew, the mind is the source of true terror.
Anna Fox, the main character of The Woman in the Window knows terror on a more intimate basis than the rest of us. She is an agoraphobic, bound to the confines of her New York City house and unable to function beyond her front door. Separated from her husband and daughter, she therefore lives vicariously through the lives of her neighbors as she watches them through her window. At times she zooms in on them through the viewfinder of her expensive camera and imagines the dialogs taking place. Some of her neighbors she has known since before her illness surfaced and some are new. Her only limited interaction now beyond her basement tenant is a wave through the window or the very occasional visitor to her door such as the mother who moved in recently and got past Anna’s defenses to actually visit with her. Although she was a respected psychologist, Anna’s insights into her own condition do not provide any relief. She swims in an ocean of wine and prescription meds interspersed with old black and white movies from the time she arises (late morning) until she sleeps (late night). A boring existence spiced with the risk of overdose until she sees a murder happen.
Or thinks she does.
As Anna pushes beyond her comfort zone to contact police and report seeing her new neighbor with a dagger in her chest, she confronts disbelief by the police, denial of the existence of the woman by the husband (he introduces another woman as his wife with the same name used by her visitor), their teenage son’s evident fear, and finally has to question her own grasp on reality.
Although confusing, at first, as Anna’s neighbors are all introduced, the story eventually intrigued most of our readers. Like Hitchcock’s works, the plot was meticulously planned, and the author dropped information at odd times along the way causing surprises and red herrings as the story progressed. Agoraphobia is not a disorder with which any of our group was familiar, and we tended to want to shake Anna and say, “just go outside already”. However, once the author revealed her gripping backstory, her retreat into her home was authentic. Our readers did ponder how in the world one could exist without going outside, but quickly realized that the advent of Amazon assures that anything necessary for existence can be delivered to your front door. The internet can provide contact with others with a caveat – there may be safety in anonymity but no assurance that the person you talk to is real. Certainly, a confined existence would be easier in today’s world, but mentally it must exact a cost.
With the good cop/bad cop duo and cast of neighbors, it was difficult to determine if there was a single psychopath trying to “gaslight” Anna and make her believe in an alternate truth while discrediting reality. An appropriate term that as Gaslight was a suspense movie directed by George Cukor in the 1940’s! Our skeptical readers appreciated the surprises even as we found the camera viewing slightly creepy. It never seemed to enter Anna’s head that people were also watching her though the window. The idea that someone could see a vulnerable person and deliberately set about bringing her to the edge of insanity by mentally torturing her before physically ending her life is the stuff of nightmares. However, it makes for a very intriguing story line. Our readers were not surprised that the wait list for this book at local libraries is long. However, we were astonished (and not sure why) to learn that the author is a man! A. J. Finn is a pseudonym for Daniel Mallory who has worked in the publishing business for quite a while.
Author Daniel Mallory has personal experience with misdiagnosed bipolar disorder and has drawn on that for his portrayal of Anna. The Woman in the Window hit the top of the New York Times best-seller list a week after it was released and hasn’t stopped gaining in popularity. There is a movie in the works, and it will be very interesting to see if Hitchcock is channeled in its production. Any reader who is a fan of old movies will find much to delight him/her in this book. Six of our readers gave it one thumb up while two were neutral. Zion’s Book Club now breaks for the summer. It will resume in September with the choice Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Korypta. Please consider joining us for enlightening conversation and fellowship – look for meeting details in the church bulletin in September.