The bestselling author of the The Arrangement explores what happens when a seemingly perfect family is pushed to the edge by cruel, vindictive and increasingly dangerous attacks.
Thomas and Viv Adler have a picture-perfect family. Affluent and attractive, with two well-mannered kids almost out of the nest, they live in a beautiful house in a well-to-do neighbourhood. Their jobs are secure; their children are thriving; the world is their oyster.
Until one morning, when they wake up to find that their house and car have been pelted with eggs. Thomas dismisses it as the work of a few out-of-control kids, but when a smoke bomb is tossed on their front lawn, and the tires on their BMW are punctured, he begins to worry. Unable to identify the perpetrators, they are helpless as the assaults escalate. The police assure them that this is just the work of bored teenagers. But no one in the Adler family believes it. After all, each of them has a secret ndash; kept not only from the outside world but from each other.
As the Adlers grapple with their guilt, fear and shame, the assaults grow deadly. Their osquo;perfectisquo; fa,cedil;ade is crumbling, and it may be too late for any of them to do anything about it.
An engrossing and thought-provoking thriller
"Now do thy sinful deeds come home to thee." (Virgil, The Aenied)
I found Robyn Harding's latest, The Perfect Family, an intriguing read - part domestic thriller, part cautionary tale.
The Adlers of Portland, Oregon appear on the surface to have it all - a beautiful home, successful careers and two nice, smart kids - the eponymous "perfect family". But appearances aren't everything, and there are a myriad of disturbing undercurrents beneath the carapace of domestic bliss.
Husband/father Thomas is a successful realtor, but his inconsiderate attitude and highly-strung nature make him unpopular with his colleagues and his expectations for his children sometimes prompt controlling behaviour and bursts of anger. After misbehaving at a colleague's recent bachelor weekend, he's receiving the unwanted attention of a would-be blackmailer, adding to the tensions he's already struggling to keep in check.
Wife/mother Viv is an interior decorator and very taken up with appearances. While she makes token attempts to "practise gratitude", she suspects Thomas is cheating on her and is struggling with the apparent deterioration of her relationships with each of her children. Her internal turmoil manifests in episodes of kleptomania from client's homes and offices - she steals small items and hordes them in a concealed drawer. Her behaviour gives her a thrill and a sense of control, but she fears that she will face personal and professional disgrace if she were ever caught in the act.
Son Eli has just returned from his first year at a prestigious Connecticut college, but has announced he won't be returning, throwing his ambitious parents into a tailspin. Thomas responds with anger and accusations of ingratitude, while Viv is shocked but incredulous, acting as though this will just blow over and he'll return to college as planned. But Eli has suffered a significant trauma, having been a bystander at a brutal hazing incident. He's receiving threats to keep quiet about what he knows and is struggling to find the courage to do what he knows is the right thing.
Daughter Tarryn is a junior at high school, and while she's doing well at school and has a close circle of like-minded friends, she's suffering significant teenage angst and is surly and unpleasant at home. Disdainful of her parents' superficial preoccupations and middle-class hypocrisy, she rebels by adopting a risky but lucrative nocturnal online persona. She loves the escapism that her covert activities provide, and the unconditional adoration she receives from her followers, but has begun to see signs that someone from her "real life" knows what she's up to, and she's scared about the potential repercussions.
The Adler family's many embarrassing secrets come into sharp focus as their home becomes the target of a succession of pranks. Starting annoyingly but relatively innocently with rotten eggs thrown at the house, the attacks soon escalate into more threatening territory - a smoke-bomb explosion on the front lawn, car tyres slashed, and the porch set on fire. Local police are powerless to act without evidence identifying the perpetrator(s), and the events trigger increasing persecution paranoia amongst the members of the Adler family. Each worries separately that his or her own behaviour has prompted somebody to seek revenge or send a warning. Accusations are thrown around, both within and outside the family, but the attacks continue. Will things ever return to normal for the "perfect" Adlers?
Robyn Harding's narrative draws on deep roots in Old Testament style fable and Greek tragedy. While there's no apparent gluttony and only indirect references to lust in the story, the remainder of the seven deadly sins - those particular behaviours and feelings that theology says inspire us to commit further sin - find willing hosts inside the Adler household. Harding explores how our thoughtless or ill-conceived actions towards others can breed significant unanticipated repercussions.
None of the Adlers are particularly likeable characters, although the two children are perhaps more sympathetically developed than the parents. Nevertheless, the reader can identify with certain aspects of their less-than-admirable attitudes and behaviours. I was invested in the outcome of their tribulations from the start, and raced through the novel to its conclusion. A final twist left me shaking my head a little, but having given it a couple of day's thought I think I've begun to grasp where the author was going.
I found The Perfect Family a stimulating read, and would recommend it to all readers who enjoy domestic suspense / thrillers and contemporary family drama.