Saturday, July 30, 2022

Out of the Fire, by Andrea Contos

Six months ago, Cass was abducted while jogging alone through the woods.  She managed to escape but they never caught the guy and ever since then she's been receiving notes from her assailant.  They show up unpredictably in pink envelopes and always in either private places (her locker, bedroom, etc.) or with contents (photographs, stolen property, etc.) that indicate that the sender has extraordinary access.  Terrorized by the realization that he can move in and out of her life without being observed, she lives in dread of receiving the next one.

At school, she befriends three other girls who have been victimized recently.  One has been racially targeted by a teacher, one has an abusive step-parent, and one has an ex-boyfriend who is extorting her for sex.  Finding that they share common trauma, the girls form a pact to eke out revenge against their tormentors.  But while the other three girls have definite targets, Cass doesn't really know who is stalking her and the more she finds out, the scarier the truth becomes.  And while revenge is easy to envisage, executing it is messy and things quickly swing bloodily and fatally out of control.

Intended to be a thriller with gravitas that comes from exploring the myriad ways that women are exploited, the execution of this blood-soaked account of revenge fell very flat for me.  There is plenty of violence but little reflection and no exploration of anything.  In this story's world, evil things just happen.  The only response is nihilistic violence.  Everyone knows it is a dead end, but what can you do?  Burn it down (apparently).  None of that is particularly inspiring or even interesting.  Nearly constant hyperbolic statements about destruction, violence, or imminent death that quickly lose their meaning and their impact.  

The writing style drove me nuts.  Every other sentence is a fragment.  The choppiness is intended to give the writing an edge, but its impact wears off within fifty pages.  Every other one.  You can only read so much of that before you go mad.  Completely utterly mad.  By the end I wanted to throw the book into a fire.  Let it burn.  Ashes to ashes.  It is what it is.  You get the idea.

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