Book review: You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks

You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks
You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks
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It’s deep, dark, disturbing…. and it won’t let you go!

South African-born short story author Michelle Sacks has turned her considerable writing skills to a full-length novel and the result is this stunning psychological thriller… a toxic, teasing, twisted tale of marriage, motherhood and friendship, so chilling and stomach-churning that it will have you reaching for the smelling salts.

Blending an ingenious brand of guilty voyeurism with an intriguing and utterly addictive storyline, Sacks sweeps us away to rural Sweden and into the lives of three of the most complex characters you could hope to meet in fiction.

Merry and Sam Hurley are building a new life for themselves far from the traffic, pollution, noise and crowds of Manhattan. Their home now is a little red wooden house nestled cosily in the woods of a beautiful nature reserve in the wilds of Sweden.

It’s a year since they left New York and they can hardly believe how lucky they are on their ‘island of three.’ What perfect new lives they have built for themselves, away from the big city and the events that overshadowed their happiness there.

Doting wife Merry adores baking, gardening and caring for their eight-month-old son Conor while Sam, a former professor of anthropology at Columbia University, pursues a new career in documentary film-making.

‘You were made for this,’ Sam tells Merry, but then Merry’s closest friend, high-flying career girl Frank, announces she is finally flying over from her home in London to stay with them.

All their lives, the two women have been more like sisters… they’re childhood friends, ‘the most dangerous kind’ of friends because Frank sees things that others might miss, the treacherous things that happen behind closed doors.

But within no time, Frank is part of the family. She bonds with Conor and Sam, she befriends the neighbours, and she even finds herself embracing the domesticity she has always claimed to scorn.

However, it’s soon clear that everyone inside the house has something to hide and as the truth begins to show through the cracks, Merry, Frank, and Sam grow all the more desperate to keep their picture-perfect lives intact…

This bold and wickedly seductive debut is straight out of the top drawer as Sacks’ taut, treacherous but exhilaratingly psychotic thriller drags us mercilessly and unrelentingly through an emotional wringer in which we witness the unfolding of a gut-wrenching tragedy.

Even as we hide our eyes behind one hand, the other is desperately turning the pages to discover the dark secrets simmering at the heart of a perfectly imperfect marriage… and the shocking fate we feel increasingly sure awaits these deeply flawed characters.

Sacks drip feeds the menace and uncertainty with exquisite precision, using a triple narrative that weaves between Merry, Sam and Frank. As we learn a series of explosive truths about each of the principal players, the tension ratchets up to boiling point and only disaster would seem to ensue.

There is so much to admire about this clever novel, not least its claustrophobic atmosphere and a number of controversial issues which are tackled with razor-sharp insight and painful intensity.

Haunting, gripping, powerful and provocative, You Were Made for This is simply unmissable…

(HQ, hardback, £12.99)