Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris is a bad book that I read in two sittings because I couldn’t put the stupid thing down. I am confused by this. Normally I have to force myself through bad books, and normally I’ll derive at least some pleasure between starting and finishing, even if it’s at the book’s expense. There’s a glimmer of value to be found.
Not so here.
This is like…you know when you stumble upon some awful movie on The Hallmark channel because someone—not you—left it on, and then you go to change the channel yet somehow end up watching the entire thing? Behind Closed Doors is like that. It’s disposable, joyless, yet just well-crafted enough with a hint of mystery to keep your attention.
I don’t know. Let’s see if we can figure this out together.
So our plot is idiot #1, Grace, marries idiot #2, Jack, despite only knowing him for like six months. Jack is not subtle. He spends the next few weeks systematically cutting Grace off from the life she’s worked hard to achieve for reasons that don’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny, but she falls for them because she’s an idiot. Jack is overbearing and kind of creepy. Grace is hopeless.
Jack then entraps his newly-wed wife so he can abuse her. The catch is that Jack is a lawyer (who helps battered women because hahahah irony!) with friends, so he’s forced to be social with his wife, who has to pretend to love him lest people find out she’s married to an abusive idiot. Also if she doesn’t pretend well enough she gets abused.
Now, I’ll concede that I’m being reductive as hell here, but every character in this book is so blitheringly, frustratingly, completely, and freakishly stupid that I can’t really help it.
Grace walks headfirst into what is obviously a bad deal in such a glorious fashion that I’m reminded of that old lie about chickens staring up at the rain and drowning. Her attempts to leave are equally stupid because she is an idiot.
Also, why is John Wick the only character in fiction to double-tap? Did no one watch Zombieland?
Jack sets himself up for failure because he’s an idiot. There’s no way any of his plans are going to last because even though his friends are stupid, they aren’t dumb. You can’t control your wife for over a year in such an obvious fashion and not raise some eyebrows.
I mean, in a way the two were probably made for each other.
Grace’s motives are pretty straightforward: escape. She also has a sister with Down’s Syndrome named Mille that she needs to protect because eventually Millie will move in with her and Jack. It should be noted that Millie is the smartest character in the whole book and actually has to convince her sister—who has been kept prisoner for over a year and tortured mentally and physically—that killing Jack is in her best interesting.
Because Grace is a fucking idiot.
Jack’s motives, meanwhile, are boring as hell. He’s a bad guy because he’s a bad guy. One could argue that sociopaths and sadists exist in real life and don’t have any other motives than “I like hurting people,” but that doesn’t fly in fiction. I need more than evil for the sake of evil. That he enjoys being evil like its some badge of honor doesn’t do him any favors. He’s so transparent that Photoshop lost the layer.
(Yes that was a bad joke. Sorry.)
The book is written in first person, jumping between first-person present and first-person past in alternating chapters. To B.A. Paris’s credit, she handles the style pretty elegantly, or at least better than I’ve seen in quite some time. Grace’s thoughts and actions come quick and naturally, focusing only on what needs to be focused on. They feel like a real internal monologue as events are happening.
The problem is that there’s not much going on to the writing save dialogue and basic movements. The writing works, but it doesn’t do anything more than work. There are no grand descriptions of anything, no fun metaphors or similes. It’s just words. I appreciate a logical handling to first-person present, but even then, the book is just another example of why the style should not be used in long-form fiction.
As to the dialogue, it’s mostly bad. That Grace talks mechanically makes sense in that she’s acting like she loves her husband through most of the novel, but Jack’s verbiage comes off as forced and unnatural. Everything he says is so on the nose that there’s almost no personality to it.
The side characters fair a bit better, but they’re not really around long enough to offset the other two.
Problems continue with the jumps between past and present chapters. The present ones are the only ones with any real tension because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but the past ones only act as either exposition dumps or Grace failing at escaping her predicament because she’s an idiot.
What we’re left with is a pair of unbelievable characters in an unbelievable situation that’s executed competently. The question remains: Why was it so engaging?
I still don’t know, to be honest. Maybe people just need mental junk food now and then, and it’s better to have junk food that’s well put together—think a Snickers bar—than junk food that’s just bad—think gummy worms.
Or maybe it’s fun being frustrated and mentally shouting, “you idiot what is wrong with you?” for a few hours. I mean, there has to be some truth there given how people act when they watch the Packers play the Vikings. It’s kind of cathartic, really. Certainly writing this review has been cathartic.
I’m normally a little more professional.
Regardless, Behind Closed Doors isn’t a book I recommend unless you plan on taking a six hour plane flight. You’ll be done with it right as you touch down, and then you’ll forget it as you go about the rest of your day.