Review: “the woman in the window” by AJ Finn (2018)

Confused.

Lost.

Agoraphobic.

Anna Fox, an online psychologist, lives in a family townhome set in Harlem, yet her family is not around. She talks to no one except her clients (on the computer), her family (on the phone), her cat, and the people who visit her: her neighbors and therapists. Due to a drastic accident a few months ago, she doesn’t leave her house; she just watches the world outside her window. During one of her drunken nights, she saw a murder happen in a house across the street. She called everyone, but no one believed her. There was blood everywhere. The body disappeared. No one had even heard of the victim. Did she hallucinate the whole thing, or did she just drink too much merlot?

the woman in the window isn’t a book you’ll ever forget. It was among the first books I read in 2018, and it’s still one of the most memorable. Since the start of the year, I’ve read 30 books, and out of those 30, “the woman in the window” has been the one that really stood out.

Under the pseudonym AJ Finn, Daniel Mallory does a brilliant job of writing a character with a mental illness with just the right amount of plot twists. This book managed to keep me reading up at all hours of the night just to see what would happen next. Also, while there weren’t always cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, if there ever was, they were worth the extra hour-or-two I stayed up past my bedtime.

Now, before we start to make assumptions on a thriller surrounding a female protagonist, this isn’t the usual story of a damsel-in-distress just trying to find the love-of-her-life. She’s actually trying to find more peace within herself, and continues to fight for her own sanity. Mallory made it a point of that, and while the summaries you can find are as vague as they should be, the characters manage to define themselves all on their own.


Characters:

First, there’s (obviously) Anna. She’s a 38-year-old therapist who lives alone in an expensive house in Manhattan. Her husband left with their 8-year-old daughter, and she only talks to them on the phone, along with all of her online clients. Other than her patients and her persistent calls to her husband to come back, her days consist of watching old black-and-white movies, people-watching, drinking 2-3 bottles of wine a day, all while having her groceries delivered, and her therapist coming for weekly “pushes” outside. So, needless to say, she’s quite content with what she goes through.

Then there’s her across-the-street neighbors, the Russells. Consisting of Ethan and his parents, they’re a mystery altogether. The Russell’s house is where she sees the murder take place, and it’s where the whole story starts to take a toll on Anna’s mind. Ethan, the 16-year-old boy who resides there, isn’t exactly a goodie-two-shoes, and neither are is parents. The Russells have always been nice to Anna, but to what extent?

Now, none of these characters are what they seem, and it gives the book the necessary twist it needs. This book is one of the few where you can’t really reveal too much of the plot without giving the whole story away, so you’ll just have to take my word on that.


A Little About the Author:

He’s kind of a piece of shit.

Want to know why?

Read this: The New Yorker


Before It Was Published:

This book definitely deserved the attention it received before it was even on the shelves. With a seven-figure sign-on bonus and movie deal, the woman in the window has been making waves in the publishing industry. The book’s ARC was reviewed by several other thriller novelists, such as Stephen King (barf), Gillian Flynn, and Paula Hawkins, which all resulted in similar forms of; “Un-put-down-able,” or ” I couldn’t stop reading.” Along with all of the praises it received, it was no surprise that it was the first debut novel in 12 years that ever made #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list (Newsweek).

Now, if that isn’t enough to make you want to go out and snag a copy, “the woman in the window” was sold over 15 million times as of October 2018, and I bought two of them.

 

Note: I’ve never actually had the urge to write a book review about a book I fell completely in love with before, so I’m going to create a new category on my blog purely for reviews. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing reviews about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, YOU and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes, Invisible Monsters Remix by Chuck Palahniuk, but before all of that I’ll round the 2018 off… with an overview of all the books I’ve read in 2018 (along with their ratings, and my stats for each one off of Bookly).

So! Keep up with me, so we can bring in the new year with plenty of reviews and high praises for a few brilliant authors!

Molly

“Mom, where’s Molly?” I asked. Molly was my favorite stuffed bear. My parents made her for me at Build-a-Bear when I was only one.

“I just got her out of the dryer,” she said, “Here she is! All clean.”

“Thank goodness, night mommy. Love you.”

“Love you too, Char,” she said, while she closed my door, leaving a crack so the hallway light could seep in; her version of a nightlight.

She thought that if I had a real night light, I’d be up all night reading. I kept telling her that I needed one to scare off the monsters, but she didn’t believe me. All she said was, “You’re nine-years-old now Charlotte, I know your tricks. You’re not getting a night light so you can read all night.” Little did she know, I wasn’t lying. I did need one.

See, things often weren’t what the seemed in my house, but I was the only one who noticed. I’d wake up screaming for my parents nearly every night, just to have them check my shelves and find nothing.

“No! There’s something over there I know it!” I would tell them, in a pit of frustration.

“There’s nothing over here, honey. You’ve got to stop doing this every other night, just go to bed,” my dad would say while shuffling me back into my loft bed.

After he left, I barricaded myself with every stuffed animal I could find. Making my bed a safe space filled with a variant of critters surrounding me while I slept, but the only way I could, was if I got as far away from my shelf as possible. So, I scooted into a corner, shuffled everything around, curled myself into a ball, found Molly, and managed to squeeze in whatever sleep my brain would allow.

Now, you might think I was being ridiculous, but there was just something about that area of my room that made me uneasy. My loft bed was sitting just a foot away from my ceiling, so I could see everything in my room; including that shelf. The shelf. It was a little 1×4 shelf that my mom hung up in my room to hold all of those items off of the floor, made out of nothing but a piece of wood held up with four pieces of really strong rope.

Yet, every night it sounded like something was falling, but I’d wake to nothing on the ground. I’d wake to crashes, bangs, and thuds that seemed like they were only a foot away from my pillow. I kept telling my parents all about the noises, but they never believed me, and they never would. It got to a point where we had to take the shelf down altogether after a while because they were tired of my paranoia. So, they set the American Girl dolls safely in their boxes, along with all of the ceramics and little trinkets I’ve collected over my eight years of life.

There was no way those noises would come now, I thought while I was brushing my teeth, hoping I would get more sleep than I have been.

I finally settled my head down on my pillow, my stuffed animals back where they belonged, squeezed Molly, and everything felt lighter. It wasn’t long before I drifted off to sleep and let my dreams take ahold of my subconscious.

“CHARLOTTE, WAKE UP AND GET OUT OF THIS ROOM,” my mom screamed and shook my bed, and suddenly I felt hot.

“Mom, what is it?” I asked her, still groggy, but she left the room before I got the whole question out. What time is it? I thought to myself. The sun was just starting to seep in through my windows. It had to be early, but what was going on.

After I finally got up, it wasn’t long before I saw what freaked out my mom so much. The shelf was back up. With everything in it’s place.

This had to be a joke. I thought to myself. A sick joke, but who would’ve put it up while I was asleep? Dad’s in the field, I don’t have siblings, and my mom always slept through the night… I kept staring at the shelf dumbfounded. I still couldn’t believe it.

“Mom! Who did this??” I yelled for her.

“It doesn’t matter Char. Just get out of there, I’ll deal with it later!” She yelled back.

I kept staring at the shelf, at the dolls, and all of the trinkets, and suddenly, a wave of panic ran through me. I knew what was making the noises.

The realization flooded through me as I saw what it was. What put the shelf back up. It wasn’t my mom; it wasn’t my dad; it was the dolls. Their expressions weren’t smiling anymore, and they weren’t alone.

I kept eye contact with them while their faces changed. Their brows became furrowed, and their smiles turned to something I’ve never seen before. They weren’t American Girl dolls anymore; they were monsters.

Similar faces came between the two I had on my shelf, they bared their sharp teeth, and looked almost real. I could still see the pink wall behind them, but they appeared as solid as the dolls. I couldn’t help but watch them uncover. My body felt paralyzed while they came out of hiding. I tried to scream for my mom again, but my mouth wouldn’t move. Stricken with fear, I started to look around the room at my other shelves. Hoping there wouldn’t be anymore, but I was mistaken.

There were around fifty faces staring back at me with their angry, terrifying expressions, and they were scattered all around my room. It wasn’t long before I saw them everywhere; I was surrounded, and the only safe place was in my bed.

I scooted back into my corner as quickly as my body would let me and closed my eyes tightly. In my cocoon, I started to say the “Now I Lay Me” prayer to myself until the I could feel the individual hairs stand on my neck. Something was breathing on me in long, hot breaths. Slowly, I turned around, and Molly was tucked between the bed and the wall. Her face was the same as all the others.

It wasn’t long before I started to scramble out of my bed. I turned to put my foot on the ladder so I could get down, but my foot didn’t touch anything. The ladder wasn’t there anymore. It was just gone, and my bed was too tall to jump off of, so I tried climbing over the side. After a slow descent, I felt my toes touch the cold tile, and started to run towards the door. There were faces everywhere I looked, and the door wasn’t getting any closer. The small hallway that led to it kept expanding, I would never reach it. I was trapped in my own room.

Soon, the floor began to darken. The tiles were hot beneath my feet, and when I stepped, they disappeared. The floor was falling, and I was going to fall with it. I could feel my body tense up as I tried to figure out how to get out of this. I had two windows, but they were surrounded. The only other places to go were the closet, or back in my bed where the height would give me more time to think. Despite Molly, I chose my bed. I hugged the side while I climbed up the wooden posts, but when I got to ledge, my bed was covered in even more faces.

I held on tightly to the post while I watched them move closer and closer. They reached my hands and I tightened my grip. Their hands started to pry each finger off slowly, I cried and begged for them to stop, “Molly, please. Don’t let them do this. I’m going to fall!” But she didn’t care. Instead her face twisted into something even darker while she joined in. Molly wasn’t in there anymore, she was my sole protector my entire life, and she wasn’t in there.

It wasn’t long before the only thing that was holding me to the post was my arms. I refused to move them, but the creatures were persistent. I kept latching my fingers back onto the wood, but they pried them off again to a point that there were splinters underneath my nails. I won’t let them drop me. I won’t let them drop me, but they got smarter.

The creatures across from us started to pass my pink duct tape around the room and while they pried each finger, they taped it to the previously pried one’s joints. Leaving me with the inability to grasp. I felt myself start to give up. This wasn’t worth it. There’s no way I’m going to get out of this, and soon they were crawling all over me. I could feel their sharp nails penetrating my back, leaving bloody trails wherever they went.

My eyes started to water and I let out a piercing scream while they shoved my arms off of the post and tape them to my torso. I’ve become their prisoner, they were going to shove me off into the dark pit below me, and I was going to let them. As soon as they were content with their tape job, they let me go, and my body jolted itself awake.

“Charlotte, are you okay? I heard screaming,” my mom said. “What’s going on?” Immediately I started crying, I couldn’t believe I was hearing her voice, it was all just a nightmare. I was just having a nightmare. My pillowcase was soaking wet with tears and snot, and my sheets felt damp. I was sweating more than usual.

Quickly, I climbed out of my bed and hugged my mom. The floor was intact, the ladder was where it was, and the shelf was still gone. No more creepy faces.

“Honey, what happened?” my mom kept asking, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. “Did you have another nightmare again? I can schedule another appointment with Dr. Landcaster if you need. Would you like that?”

Dr. Landcaster was one of my therapists, except he was allowed to prescribe me with medication that would help my nightmares and daydreaming. Dr. Haslett was my other one, but he only let me play board games in his office while we talked about things. I liked him more, but I couldn’t have that dream again. “Sure mommy, thanks for taking the shelf down again. I didn’t like the dolls.”

“Char, what shelf? You’ve had your pink bookcase up for a while, why would we take it down?” she asked, puzzled.

NO, this can’t be right. “Never mind momma, it must’ve just been a dream,” I said while I hugged her tighter while fresh tears started to fall down my cheeks.

“Okay, well if you’re okay then get dressed. We’re visiting your dad at work today,” she told me, I loved visiting him. He always let me color on all of the old documents and sit in the big trucks.

“Alriiiiight. I’ll be ready in a minute,” I told her, knowing she already laid my clothes out for me. In a rush of excitement, I started getting dressed, but then I felt it. The hot air on my neck was back, and I slowly turned around. Molly was on my bookshelf, breathing hot, hot air on me, and suddenly, I screamed.

Disclaimer: This is loosely based off of things I used to see in the dark as a kid. It wasn’t as extreme, but the faces were just as creepy.

Prologue//Flashback: Maddy’s

I could still hear my mom yelling at me from the kitchen, Maddy! Come clear these tables, please! It was the early dinner lunch rush at the diner, so it was packed as usual. Every afternoon after school, I’d start my shift at Maddy’s, and every afternoon I got picked on over the fact I worked at a place that shared my name. I mean, it wasn’t my fault that my grandmother had such a huge impact on my family; kids were just mean.

Regardless of all of their mocking, I still came in after school and set all of the unoccupied tables and sat down in my designated “homework booth” that my parents made for me. It was set in the back near the kitchen and it was the perfect little nook. Complete with an outlet for my mom’s laptop, a printer in case I needed to print anything, and a booth that opened up like a chest, so I could keep my backpack out of the way. My favorite part though, was the window that overlooked the little strip we were on. This way, I could watch the outside world and all of the animals scattering around… although, I wasn’t necessarily allowed to keep the curtains open if I had a lot going on.

For a kid who gets easily distracted, working next to a window was definitely a no-go, but it was my favorite booth designed just for me. After all, how many twelve-year-old’s can say they have their own booth in a diner specifically for them? As far as they’re concerned, they can all suck eggs.

I mean, the last time I reached out and tried to make friends, it didn’t go so well. She was nice to me, until she wasn’t. She broke my trust and I wasn’t really able to recover—I never had time to. I just kept pushing past it. Reading was more important, school was more important, better yet, moving on was more important. So, I did.

My parents always seemed concerned that I never had friends with me, they always asked what happened to “whatshername”, but I just didn’t care to get close to anyone. Everyone thought I was weird for staying at home, but they just didn’t know how hard school was for me. No wonder my booth was my little sanctuary; it’s the one place I didn’t feel like the weird kid.

Yet, three years later, my parents decided to sell it. I can still remember just how devastated I was. “How could you?!” I screamed and yelled at them, I couldn’t believe the fact that they would betray me like that.

“Now what’s going to set me apart from all the other kids?” I asked. “I need a place to do my homework and God knows the house isn’t quiet enough with dad home all the time. High school has been kicking my ass lately, what am I supposed to do now?”

“Madeline Joanne MacCarthy! Watch your mouth! I realize you’re fifteen, but you cannot talk to me that way. You don’t need a booth to set you apart from them. It’ll still be there,” my mom told me in the middle of my breakdown. At fifteen I wasn’t sure what to call tantrums, so a breakdown would have to work.

“That’s not the point!” I let out an exasperated gasp. “I can’t believe you would sell it. What would grandma say!?”

“As far as me and your father are concerned, your grandma is fine with it. She wouldn’t want us to hang onto something that takes so much out of your father,” she said calmly. “So, you’re just going to have to get over it. Maybe I can talk to the new owners about you using the booth after school.”

“Whatever,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I’ll just go to the library or something,” I said a little too aggressively. I’ll never forgive them for this, and I don’t understand how my dad could just give up. Now my sanctuary was gone. My little home away from home practically demolished.


imageDisclaimer: I’m not sure if I’m going to keep this as a prologue, or as a flashback in another chapter. Alexander and Madeline are still VERY much a WORK IN PROGRESS, so stay with me! Thank you all for reading, I appreciate all of the support!