By Helen Phillips. (Simon & Schuster, 258 pages, $26.)
Shirley Jackson meets Jordan Peele in this tale (thriller? sci-fi nightmare? mommy blog gone sideways?) of a young mother/paleobotanist whose life is upended by an intruder. Molly is every woman who’s juggled an infant, a 4-year-old, a full-time job and a husband who travels. Her days are exhausting, tedious, mind-numbing, terror-filled. She’s dealing with this kind of stuff: “Oh, but Viv did not want to take a bath. She could remember the last time she had taken a bath and she did not like to take a new bath until she had forgotten her old bath.” That, and lots and lots of lactation. To be honest, anyone’s mind might snap.
So is that what’s happening in this page-turner? Hard to say. There are hints of biblical violence and fissures in the time-space continuum, or maybe it’s just a fever dream. The short, pulse-pounding chapters keep the tension ratcheted up to 11, but darned if you ever really know what’s going on. Neither does Molly, who vacillates between murderous impulse and welcoming acceptance. To say “The Need” is a twisted version of every mother’s guilty fantasy is not so far a stretch.
The First Mistake
By Sandie Jones. (Minotaur Books, 320 pages, $26.99.)
By any measure, Alice has been through a lot. The mysterious death of her first husband, Tom, left her shattered and helpless, too emotionally weak to care for her daughter. After years of medications and doctors’ care, she finally met Nathan and remarried, had another child and seems to be on the mend.
Alice has managed to keep the commercial design business she started with Tom going strong, and Nathan has taken an interest in the company, scouting for ever more lucrative clients. And now they’re on the verge of the deal of the century, a housing development in Japan that stands to transform their company into a global player.
What’s more, she’s found the perfect best friend in Beth, someone she confides in and trusts. After Alice spent so many years fragile and broken, Beth props her up and gives her the confidence to be her best self.
But this being a psychological thriller, none of it is what it seems — Alice’s past or her present. And when hints of lies and betrayals begin to emerge, she starts to doubt everything, and the solid foundation she’s rebuilt dissolves under her feet. As her truth unravels, readers are holding onto one thread while another suddenly dangles before us. And another.
From the author of “The Other Woman,” a debut celebrated as one of 2018’s twistier plots and a truly immersing read, this mystery/domestic thriller is perhaps more predictable but nearly as compelling as the first. Both are great pass-along books for vacation entertainment or simply vicarious getaways.