In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.
Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.
As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town – or perhaps lives among them – drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.
Trigger warning: discussions of rape of a minor. Discretion is advised.
After snatching up Emma in the Night from Wendy Walker, one of the first things I did after finishing it was making sure I bought All is Not Forgotten, her debut. It seemed like this one would be near and dear to my heart, considering the premise is basically about the importance of remembering trauma instead of erasing it. Instead, I came away with the knowledge that Wendy Walker is unfortunately a lot like Josh Malerman: inconsistent.
I despised this book. What’s worse that it baffles me that I did. Jenny Kramer is a teenager easy to like, and she is the victim of a vicious rape that baffles the local police. Her parents are equally tortured between their pasts and present, and are real, volatile characters. Tom will do anything to catch the criminal, at any cost, which begins to make him dangerous. Charlotte’s world is falling around her, and she is the one who decides to wipe Jenny’s memories of the attack. This has serious ramifications Charlotte cannot comprehend. All of this is happening while the hunt for whoever did this to Jenny continues. It sounds so good in theory, but it’s the execution that makes this book fall apart.
It rapidly becomes clear that the characters and the plot are not what the author cares about the most. It is the theme that wiping away the evidence – and memories – of our past psychological damages with a pill isn’t the answer, and she shoves that message down the reader’s throat every chance she gets. Theme is very much something that needs to blossom out of the characters and plot, and when it is forced to the forefront, you get preachy, monotone writing that has no business in a thriller.
What’s even worse is the character Walker chose for the POV. I refuse to say protagonist because he isn’t. This character was intended for the purpose to inform the reader about Jenny, her family, and their life after the attack. He is static; he does not develop or show any promise of developing. As a result, the entire book reads like a legal brief or testimonial for court. This isn’t surprising considering Walker’s history as a lawyer, but for something advertised as a psychological thriller, it’s disappointing.
The icing on the cake is that this guy is a condescending jerk. His name isn’t even revealed until chapter seven (so I will not be saying it for the sake of spoilers), and this feels cheap. The way he discusses Jenny and other victims of the pill is shallow and rude, and it’s very clear his only worry in the world is reversing the pill’s effects. He’s one-dimensional, and it feels like the author made him a jerk in an attempt to make him more of a character.
I really wanted to like this book. The reviews on it certainly suggested that I would. The subject matter is fascinating and important, and done correctly, it could have been amazing. Instead, I got about halfway through before giving up. I recently received a copy of her upcoming novel The Night Before, and I certainly hope it’s more like Emma in the Night rather than this one.