Monday, May 4, 2015

'Rear Window' on a train

Turning spectators into participants is one of the key tricks used by writers of thrillers. The audience, whether those reading a book or watching a movie, is made to feel as if they, too, could easily be drawn into something dangerous and exciting.

The classic example of this may be Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, in which a man with broken leg and a pair of binoculars thinks his neighbor may have murdered his wife. Laura Lippman did something similar a few years ago with her short novel The Girl in the Green Raincoat in which a pregnant woman confined to her own home observes a woman wearing a green raincoat walk her dog each day. Then one day she sees the dog, but not the woman. Thus begins an investigation that ultimately brings a killer to her door.

A similar idea powers the biggest bestseller of the year so far, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Rachel is a recently divorced, alcoholic young woman who has lost her job because of her drinking yet still pretends to be working by taking the train to London each day. As the trains slows down through the town where she once lived with her husband, now married to another woman, Anna, she observe their lives in the same house along the tracks where she was once so happy. She also observes nearby another house where, in her imagination, the perfect couple lives. She thinks of them as Jess and Jason, but their real names are Megan and Scott. And then one night, a night in which Rachel has gotten off the train there and drunkedly tried to contact her ex-husband, Megan disappears. Rachel thinks she may have seen something that may help solve the mystery, but because of her alcoholism, nobody believes her.

This is a cleverly constructed tale that appropriately keeps the suspense building. The novel has three narrators, Rachel, Megan and Anna. Unfortunately, each narrator tells her story in the same way, in present tense and with events broken down into morning and evening, like diary entries. Shouldn't different women tell their stories a little differently?

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