It has to be said… ‘Oh my god, how many secrets can one family have?’ Although, having said (exclaimed?) that some of the secrets Adler family members are keeping are blown (by the keeper) way out of proportion. Of course, others are doozies, so….
The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding is centred around a family that seems to be just that. And we’re told parents Thomas and Viv work hard to make it appear so. But cracks are appearing. All at once, and it’s a reminder that – from the outside – you never know what’s happening on the inside.
The Perfect Family
by Robyn Harding
Published by Simon & Schuster AU
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Thomas and Viv Adler have a picture-perfect family. Affluent and attractive, with two well-mannered kids almost out of the nest, they live in a beautifully restored Craftsman house in a well-to-do neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Their jobs are secure; their children are thriving; the world is their oyster.
Until one morning, when they wake up to find that their house and car have been pelted with eggs. Thomas dismisses it as the work of a few out-of-control kids, but when a smoke bomb is tossed on their front lawn, and the tires on their BMW are punctured, he begins to worry. The family installs surveillance cameras but they show nothing but grainy images of shadowy figures in hoodies. Unable to identify the perpetrators, they are helpless as the assaults escalate. The police assure them that this is just the work of bored teenagers. But no one in the Adler family believes it. After all, each of them has a secret—kept not only from the outside world but from each other.
Seventeen-year-old Tarryn is dabbling in a seedy online world; her older brother, Eli, has dropped out of college and refuses to tell his parents why; and Thomas and Viv have their own secrets that began as harmless fun and relief from the pressures of everyday life, but have grown into something darker and more dangerous. As the Adlers grapple with their guilt, fear, and shame, the assaults grow deadly.
There’s ultimately a lot made of the fact that Thomas and Viv strive obsessively to appear ‘perfect’ to the outside world. I must confess I didn’t quite get the sense they were THAT OTT about it. Perhaps it’s because we meet them at a fragile time and they’ve got their own personal problems.
Daughter Tarryn in particular seems to rebel against the idea of pleasing either parent and they’ve acquiesced at some point along the way, keeping the peace rather than adopting an authoritarian approach with her.
High achieving son Eli is the golden child – a talented soccer player, his parents are paying for him to attend a prestigious college so when he wants to leave they don’t understand. They remain in denial and are obviously disappointed and angry but (in fairness to them) they aren’t trying to coerce him – at least not yet. And you get the impression he’s happily met all of their expectations without argument in the past, so his behaviour is undoubtedly a surprise to them.
Of course it could be that I read too many books about dysfunctional families so don’t realise how little pressure is required to bring someone to tipping point.
Both kids have their secrets. Tarryn’s is a form of rebellion, she’s potentially putting herself in danger. Eli’s isn’t really something he’s done, it’s a result of inaction rather than action.
We learn of Thomas’s indiscretion early. The motivation behind what happens was a surprise. Almost an anticlimax but only in the way that we suspect the worst and it’s blown out of proportion before it’s addressed. Viv’s quandary is definitely of her own doing but in some ways not entirely in her control.
When the attacks on the house start everyone looks to Tarryn as they assume it to be the work of youngsters. It’s telling however that she’s so easily made the scapegoat. As the attacks escalate however each of the family members start to ponder their own secrets and wonder if they’re responsible for what’s happening.
There’s no one real climax here. The book opens at a point to which we return, so it’s a surprise to find there’s more after that. Indeed, what unfolds is almost a stutter of incidents and reckonings.
Harding appears to be making comment (or passing judgement) on Thomas and Viv here. I didn’t really see any of the Adler family to be THAT narcissistically self-absorbed so a lot of the anger and hate didn’t feel warranted. Perhaps we needed more references to what the parents were like before the current situation to get an understanding of the depth of their perfectionist and bombastic ways. As an aside, I also felt the police’s lack of interest in investigating the attacks was a little surprising and wondered how realistic that was.
I enjoyed this read but felt a smidge unsatiated at the end… though of course appreciated the little twist Harding adds to keep us guessing.
The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.