For those still reeling in the wake of Gillian Flynn’s haunting best-sellers, A. J. Finn’s debut novel, “The Woman in the Window,” dazzles readers with a chilling tale, narrated by a struggling alcoholic, Dr. Anna Fox.
The textbook definition of an unreliable narrator, Fox has not left her home in nearly a year. Thanks to her tenant, David, online prescription filling and grocery delivery services, Fox manages to live her entire life without leaving the comfort of her home. Between spying on her neighbors and drinking wine, she watches old black-and-white films and reflects on the past in her restored New York City townhome. Her many medications for her anxiety disorder do not mix well with her affinity for good merlot, and her passion for photography bleeds into a pattern of peeping through windows at her neighbors.
“Watching is like nature photography: you don’t interfere with the wildlife,” according to Fox.
But Fox breaks her own rules.
When the Russell family moves into the house across the street, she finds herself intrigued by the peculiar family. With a background as a professional child psychologist, Fox spends much of her time speculating about the Russells’ teenage son, Ethan, and his quiet demeanor. Although she rarely leaves her home, she befriends Ethan and his mother, Jane. She immediately becomes suspicious of Mr. Russell during her emotional visits with Ethan, and after an evening of drinking, chatting and playing chess with Jane, she hears his wife describe him as controlling.
But one night, after too many pills and drinks, she witnesses Jane’s brutal murder from her window, leaving her frantically searching for answers. However, the shaky recollections of a depressed hermit do not sway the police, especially when confronted with a shocking truth. Mr. Russell and Ethan introduce a woman Fox has never met, or even seen, as a happy, healthy Jane Russell.
As more details about Fox’s past are unearthed, readers are left wondering whether the dialogue and scenes they have read are more fact or fiction. Fox dreamily recollects bits and pieces of the day’s events, remembering that David paid her a visit before doing maintenance for the Russell family home. Her snooping tendencies lead her to the Russell’s online history, where her searches for Jane Russell lead nowhere. Did she imagine her night of drinking and chess with Jane? Or is the woman living across the street an imposter? Why does Ethan seem so afraid? With a myriad of possible motives, suspects and twists, this psychological thriller keeps readers from trusting anyone, including Fox.
Readers will crave more of Finn’s impeccable storytelling. His style has similarities to Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware, yet he punctuates the narrative with humorous quips, movie references and just enough self-doubt to keep readers wondering where the line between fantasy and reality actually lies. In particular, his unbelievably realistic telling of Fox’s frequent panic attacks displays his genuine knack for writing relatable fiction.
“Somewhere in the attic of my brain I recall that this has happened once before, on these same steps. I remember the low tide of voices, the odd word breaching bright and clear…” Fox said.
Although the story has many themes, Finn masterfully aligns movie quotes and references in the plot of the story with Fox’s narrative in a way that only a seasoned writer could. Interestingly, Dr. Fox rarely follows the doctor’s orders, making for some ironic humor, as well.
With a movie development with Fox 2000 in the making, one can see how “The Woman in the Window” will attract every suspense-seeking mystery lover. Finn’s appreciable humor, remarkable diction and talent for storytelling make “The Woman in the Window” a fly-through read for many as the race to uncover the truth takes a shocking turn.