THE PERFECT DAUGHTER by Alex Stone is the debut psychological suspense thriller by the author. It's a no holds barred peek into the lives of mother and daughter duo, Abigail and Jess Harper. And boy, will it drive you mad! The relationship between what I have termed "the toxic two" is just that - toxic - detailing the lengths to which a mother will go to just to keep her daughter co-dependent on her. It's not healthy, nor is it normal. I have to say that I am so please my mother is nothing like this at all!
The story is that Jess, a thirty-something woman whose life has been totally immersed in the manipulative hold her mother had over her her entire life. From consistently interfering in her life through each and ever relationship she's ever had to her choice of clothes, make-up, even food, Jess has never made an independent choice for herself. Everything she does, thinks or says is immediately linked to her mother and what she would think or say. Not only that, but every sentence uttered by her mother is a direct put-down which therefore leaves Jess questioning everything she does thus keeping her completely under her mother's tight control.
For Jess, this behaviour is completely normal. Everyone is close to their mothers...aren't they? That may well be, but not everyone is beholden to their mother for ever hour of every day of their lives. If Jess isn't with her mother she is texting her mother or thinking about what her and what she might say in any given situation...even when she is on a date.
But when Jess meets Adam, her life changes. For the first time she begins to feel free from the constraints of her mother's clutches...but is she really? Because then everything she does she begins to second guess or question knowing that she isn't capable enough of making those decisions herself. Even her apartment was chosen by her mother despite the fact Abigail still referred to her childhood home as "home". In her eyes, that was her home and always would be. But Adam sees something in Jess that she cannot, and she starts to feel good about herself. Until she starts to second guess herself and begins to wonder if her mother was right.
Adam tried showing Jess how good she could be if she just let herself be but her mother was always in the background...her voice constantly in her head, reminding her that she wasn't good enough and that, like all the others, Adam will leave her too. I mean, why wouldn't they? She was unlovable and at the end of the day it was always her fault that they leave. Ever since her father left when she was 7 years old. If he couldn't love her, then what hope did she have? But Adam reminded her constantly that she was special, that she was beautiful and that she was good enough. She just had to believe it.
In between Adam's voice and her mother's, Jess couldn't hear her own in the cacophony. Did she even have a voice? And was she good enough to be heard? Soon, Jess began to wonder if the freedom she gained from her mother's clutches wasn't being replaced by Adam's? Had she simply moved on from being manipulated by her mother to being manipulated by Adam? Or is she just imagining it all?
And then Jess' world falls apart when Adam disappears...feared dead. Both her and her mother are questioned by the police after Adam's van was found having plunged over a cliff with Adam nowhere to be found. Was it suicide, accident or something more sinister? All eyes begin to fall on Jess as she is called in for questioning several times and what with her history, her suspicious behaviour and apparent memory problems, Jess even begins to question herself. Did she do this?
The story unfolds solely through Jess' unreliable narrative in the past and present, with alternating chapters "Then" and "Now", beginning when she met Adam up to his disappearance and its aftermath. We also see through this and her various flashbacks from over the years, the manipulative hold her mother has on through coercive control and the constant negative affirmations that have clearly affected every aspect of her self conscious life. And despite efforts to the contrary, Jess has grown to realise that THE PERFECT DAUGHTER doesn't exist...no matter how hard she tries to appease her mother.
Jess's thought process is very repetitive and somewhat depressing but is it any wonder? I found it difficult to read at times because her mother was so blatantly manipulative but Jess was so conditioned to it that she was blind to the damage she was causing. I was incredibly frustrated and I just wanted to shake some sense into Jess and smack her mother into the middle of somewhere far far away. But then as we see Jess begin to doubt herself, we start to wonder just how much are we being told? How much of what Jess tells us in her narrative can we believe? If, for some reason, she is as mentally challenged as her mother insinuates then just how much of her recollection can we really believe?
THE PERFECT DAUGHTER is engrossing, addictive and incredibly frustrating at times but it has a somewhat surprising ending despite having already figured out the twist early on. The final twist was the surprise and the ending was sweet.
A psychological thriller with a totally unreliable narrator, THE PERFECT DAUGHTER is the perfect read for fans of this genre and will have you guessing and second guessing just what is real and what is imagined.