By: Kathryn Rosko, Volunteer
“The Woman in the Window,” a debut thriller by A.J. Finn, has been receiving much attention in the media since its publication earlier this month, and has recently topped the New York Times bestseller list. Theauthor has been outed as Dan Mallory, a longtime executive editor of mysteries at Morrow and, in an interesting twist, the novel was picked up by his own publishing house, apparently without their knowledge that he was the true author.
But perhaps the real reason for all the attention is that “The Woman inthe Window” has been compared to recent popular thrillers by authors like Paula Hawkins (“The Girl on the Train”), Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”), and Tana French (“In the Woods”)—as well as endorsed by many of thesame authors. And rightly so. Unreliable narrator? Check. Fast-paced story with lots of unexpected twists? Check.
With such hype, there is often cause for concern that the book won’t deliver, but that is not the case here. Finn’s book is a great read: a terrific set-up leading to an entrancing ride and, perhaps most importantly, a satisfying ending, all told by the engaging and oddly charming narrator, Dr. Anna Fox.
Fox, a former child psychiatrist who is married with a young daughter, is suffering from an acute case of agoraphobia and is holed up alone inher three-story Harlem home. Anna mostly fills her days by playing online chess, chatting with—and sometimes counseling—fellow agoraphobics in an online forum called the Agora, watching old movies, calling her husband and daughter on the phone, and, also, spying on the neighbors through the zoom lens of her camera. Things start to get interesting when a new family, the Russells, move into theneighborhood.
Anna soon meets 15-year old and seemingly fragile son Ethan Russell through a neighborly visit, and, later, sassy and boisterous wife Jane after an anxiety attack. After the meetings, Anna (and the reader) starts to draw conclusions about the not-so-perfect life at the Russell household. Things escalate when Anna, while spying, sees what appears to be the murder of Jane inside her home.
Some other fun complications include Anna’s mysterious tenant, a handsome handyman with a shady past named David living in thebasement, and questions surrounding his actions and motivations. Also, speculations arise about Anna’s family and why they aren’t living with her. Anna sees a former colleague and psychiatrist, Dr. Fielding, who is trying to help her better manage her agoraphobia with talk therapy and exercises to ease her panic. Oh, and also the right pharmaceutical cocktail. This may be one of the most interesting components of “The Woman in the Window:” not only is Anna supposed to be taking heavy-duty psych meds for her condition, she is also supposed to take them according to prescription and to avoid drinking. Since she flagrantly does neither of these things, swilling wine nearly constantly and popping pills when the mood strikes, Anna becomes perhaps one of the most unreliable narrators in recent memory. Did she see a murder? Or is she having a drunken, drug-induced hallucination?
The way Finn threads in the old films that Anna is watching—from Hitchcock classics (“Rear Window” anyone) to “Gaslight”—makes for wonderful imagery and tension. Soon the reader, and Anna, realize that no one is to be trusted, which makes for a compelling race to the finish.
Kathryn Rosko is the Director of Communications at a local independent school and a volunteer at the library. She lives in Pennington with her husband and two children.