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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Review of THE BOY AT THE DOOR by Alex Dahl (New Release)

2.5 Stars
Cecilia Wilborg lacks nothing; she has what seems to be a perfect life with her husband and two daughters, though it soon becomes clear that she is keeping some dark secrets from her family.  They end up providing a temporary foster home for a young boy named Tobias, and Cecilia’s life starts to unravel when she learns he has connections to Annika Lucasson.  Annika, a drug addict with an abusive drug-dealing boyfriend, is privy to Cecilia’s secrets which if revealed would destroy her life.

The novel has three narrators.  Cecilia’s first-person narration is interspersed with some chapters from Tobias’ perspective, also written in the first person, and some journal entries and letters written by Annika.  Cecilia’s narration becomes annoying because she keeps withholding information.  Instead, she just goes on and on about her fears that her life will disintegrate:  “I’m overwhelmed by a sensation of the past as a slithering snake sneaking up on me, ready to unleash its poison on this immaculate life I’ve fought so hard for” and “maybe [Tobias’ presence] won’t dislodge those huge, black boulders inside of me and send them crashing onto this life I’ve managed to preserve against some hefty odds” and “his very presence threatens to unleash a wave of grief and regret so huge it would knock me down forever if I don’t keep suppressing it at any cost.” 

Cecilia is not a likeable person; she certainly did not get any sympathy from me.  She is materialistic:  “being me is very expensive” and “I prefer my surroundings to be beautiful at all times.”  She is very shallow, constantly making judgments about people based on their appearance:  “Back then she was a timid, chubby girl with messy pigtails and hand-me-down clothes, and she’s not really that different now.  Scruffy is the word that comes to mind.  I must admit that she’s gone from awkwardly tall and “big-boned” to what I suppose some people might call statuesque, but she most definitely retains that gangly, clownish presence I remember from childhood.” 

The decisions she made in the past and continues to make reveal her to be narcissistic and self-absorbed.  She once met a man and “less than ten minutes after he sat down beside me, Thiago was inside me”?!   She is not the greatest of mothers; she complains how her daughters keep viewing YouTube makeup tutorials and are constantly arguing, but she does nothing to intervene.  Johan, Cecilia’s husband, once tells her, “’You’re a bitch.  You can be so much more than that, and you know I love you dearly, but sometimes you really are a bitch.’”  That describes her perfectly.  As more and more about Cecilia is revealed, I ended up not caring what happened to her. 

Several events are just unbelievable.  I know nothing about Child Services in Norway but I can’t imagine that they would place a vulnerable child in a foster home that had not been properly vetted.  A child in foster care could suffer an injury and the family could keep him from attending school for some time and authorities wouldn’t care?  Then when the scar from the injury is obvious, no one would investigate?  Then there are the many coincidences.  Tobias gives Cecilia a key that, pardon the pun, unlocks everything?  How convenient!  Even the ownership of a farmhouse is connected to both Cecilia and Annika’s families?

The book is described as a “gritty novel of psychological suspense.”  There is grit since the novel includes substance abuse, prostitution, rape, physical abuse, abandoned children, and murder, but the glacial pace means there is little suspense.  In fact, the nature of Cecilia’s secrets is not difficult to guess long before the truth is revealed.  Even the title is misleading; Tobias is never a boy at the door.  

Note:  I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.