Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott, in my opinion, is one of the most talented writers alive right now. I loved her earlier stuff when she was writing period Los Angeles mysteries and seemed poised as the female James Ellroy. Then she switched to contemporary novels and has a great deal of success with them.
I'd recently read a glowing review for her newest, Beware the Woman, and decided to give it a go. I'd only read one of her contemporary novels (You Will Know Me), but as good as it was, it didn't stick with me the way The Song is You and Queenpin had.
Beware the Woman is the story of Jacy, recently married to Jed Ash and with a baby on the way, when her husband takes her to his family's remote estate in northern Michigan. At first Jed's widowed father, a retired doctor, dotes on Jacy, but as family secrets are exposed and Jacy experiences complications with her pregnancy, Dr. Ash's overreaching concern for her and his unborn grandchild, and his true attitude toward Jacy become frightening to the point where she feels the need to escape, and the fear only increases as both Dr. Ash and Jed try to prevent her from doing so.
I had a little trouble getting going with this one, but once I was locked in to the story, I flew through it, finishing it in only two days. I had a feeling Abbott wouldn't tack on the kind of ending one would typically expect from a story like this, and she didn't disappoint. There are a couple of things that happen at the end that I absolutely never saw coming that really blew the story out of the water.
If this book has any weakness I think it's represented by the character of Jed, who is first presented as a man so excited to be a husband and father that his subsequent frequent lack of support for Jacy (which comes across as heartless indifference) is jarring. In this respect he also repeatedly seems to go in and out of a conscious focus that's never explained. The character of his father is much more fleshed out. And maybe it's the times we live in, but I could also see Beware the Woman as being construed as call against the dangers of "toxic masculinity" as Jacy is increasingly portrayed as a mere vessel to deliver the highly desired next Ash generation to the point where both fathers are deemed destructive in their own ways (Dr. Ash proactively versus Jed's frequent lack of action) while seeming to infer that women and their children are better off without husbands and fathers. I found that off-putting and a lot of that goes back to the problematic portrayal of Jed.
Having said all that, reading a Megan Abbott book is never a waste of time and well worth it. Jacy's heart-pounding finale wore me out, and watching the devolution of Dr. Ash and the evolution of Mrs. Brandt, the house-keeper, was fascinating.