I’ll tell the truth: I feel bad when I have to give a book a bad review. I often think of books as people, and I suppose that’s not far from wrong, considering that every book has a person behind it. So I feel apologetic for the review I’m about to give.
To start out with something positive, I had no trouble finishing the book. It was simply plotted and decently paced, and I never felt bored or found myself wondering when the hell the author was just going to get on with it. And to offer a disclaimer up front, I was not expecting a deep experience from this book. I got it because it popped up under my Amazon recommendations, it was only 99¢, and the description made it sound like it might be a decent cheesy summer mystery. So it could be argued that I have no right to complain. But that has never stopped me before.
The characters are very flat, stock personalities, as if they were called in to be extras in a film with no lead actor. The bad guys are bad. The good guys are swell folks. Sometimes bad things happen to these swell folks, but these happenings are not complicated. Though it’s not by far the most traumatic thing that happens to anyone in the book, one major female character’s main conflict is that she used to be fat. The horror! As someone who is currently fat, I remain unsympathetic. Call me a bitch.
The titular recluse is Mary McAllister, who, due to her social anxiety disorder, has been shut up in her mansion for 60 years, ever since her husband beat her up, disfiguring her, and then ran out and got himself killed in a car accident. He’s one of the Bad Guys. She has two secrets, one of which we learn early on in the book and is the root of her disorder. The second, which is revealed near the end of the story, has been obvious from about page 10, and provides no dramatic irony or suspense. Her one friend is the town preacher.
The book reads as if written by a highly intelligent 16 year old who’s read V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, and, oh, something really inspirational yet embarrassing like the Chicken Soup books or Tuesdays with Morrie. The V.C. Andrews is covered by the abberant sexual behavior practiced by two of the characters and the bevy of misfortunes that befall Mary; the Stephen King by the small New England town setting and attempt at gothicism; and the last by the not-at-all-veiled preachiness and morality the reader comes in for towards the end of the story. I want to be clear that I intend no disrespect to Stephen King through my comparison: I really love his books and think that he does what he does very well. This book does not do what it wants to do well at all.