[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

Right from the start I had a bit of a problem with the characters. I thought that it was such a good idea to divide the narrative between the returned girl and the forensic psychologist who had initially been assigned the case. It gave the reader two different but connected perspectives. As much as Abby had studied and could diagnose elements of Cass’ life, Cass was the only one who could give the reader the information. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a reliable narrator. There’s a certain thing that Cass knows  that is revealed immediately to the reader. Abby’s part consists of her trying to figure out what that is. The reader has to figure out what is the truth and what is Cass’ imagination. I think that they were distinctly different voices, but I just didn’t connect with either of them.

Part of the reason for that was the choice to write Cass’ part in first person, but Abby’s part in third person. Even though Cass’ part should have been the one that was more immersive because it was first person, it wasn’t. The main reason for this was the style. I felt like the entire book was told in an expository style, where the characters were telling us how they felt and what they did. It presented the story in a way that was told to me instead of putting me into the story. I kept waiting for the moment when I would be pulled in by the characters, and it never really came. Because it was telling, I felt that it kept me just a hand’s-breadth away from being emotionally invested. I wanted to like this story because I like suspense, but this one just didn’t pull me in. I was waiting for that moment. When it never came,  it ended up being really disruptive to my reading experience.

As for the other characters, I only got a look at them through the lens of Cass and Abby. Each have their own way of seeing others. I liked Cass’ half brother Witt, her father, Abby, and the agent working with her, but everyone else was pretty horrible. I had a little bit of sympathy for Emma for part of the novel, but as it advanced I really didn’t like how she was portrayed. She wasn’t a sympathetic character. Their mother was absolutely horrible. There were no moment where she was redeemed. I understand that there needs to be some sort of a “villain” in novels, even contemporary ones, but I like bad characters who are multifaceted. I wanted there to be more to Cass’ mother than there was, but there wasn’t.  That may have been what the author intended, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it.

…something that felt like love was in her and she would take it out at times like this and show it to us and make us hunger for more.*

I did really like how narcissism was explored in this novel. I think that Walker did a good job of showing how the narcissistic mother influenced the growth of Cass and Emma. Because the focus of the novel was finding Emma, I found it more interesting when Emma was discussed because she was the chosen child. It was explained in the novel that the narcissistic mother often chooses one child who is both the chosen one and the competitor, and the other child looks for love from the chosen child. It’s a horrible, messed up cycle, and it often does become a cycle. Abby is the child of a narcissistic mother, and she sometimes wonders if she and her sister escaped the cycle themselves.

I think that the things I really liked about this novel were sometimes overshadowed by what I didn’t like. I was really intrigued to find out what exactly had happened and what was being hidden, but I had a difficult time getting through a lot of the exposition that the author was having the characters do. I felt like I was reading a confession rather than a story, and I couldn’t quite get past that. I think that people who like contemporary mysteries will enjoy this one, but it wasn’t completely for me. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not something completely memorable in my opinion.

2.5 stars.

I received an advanced reading copy of Emma in the Night from the publisher via NetGalley. Emma in the Night will be published on August 8th, 2017.

*Quotes are taken from an advanced reading copy and are subject to change before publication.

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