Thursday, August 21, 2014
Review: Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
Title: Into the Darkest Corner
Author: Elizabeth Haynes
Rating: 4 Stars
I remember looking up from this novel, expecting it to be around 11:30 in the night and finding it was pushing past 1 AM. Like the bibliophile I am, though, I told myself I'd just finish the chapter I was reading but it was 2:40 when my traitorous eyes, struggling to stay awake, forced me to close the book and drag myself to bed, only barely remembering to shut the lights off.
I don't read too many thriller/horror novels. I relish the creeping sense of suspense, the hint of dramatic flair, and the embroiled emotions involved with such stories but, seeing as horror movies keep me anxiously awake late into the night, I often convince myself such books will do the same.
Into the Darkest Corner, however, is the perfect blend of thriller, horror, and contemporary fiction--all just with a hint of romance. Make no mistake, Haynes's novel is a dark one. Within these pages you will find graphic and gruesome detailing of an abusive relationship, domestic violence, and rape. Yet, it is an impeccably written and thought-provoking account of the type of day-to-day horrors people experience--and we often want to forget. Into the Darkest Corner is told in alternating timelines of 2004 and 2008. In 2004 Catherine Bailey went to a bar in a red silk dress and began an intense relationship with a man she met there, Lee. In 2008 Cathy Bailey lives alone in an apartment, aloof from her co-workers and neighbors, frantically checking and re-checking her locks for fear of her ex-boyfriend, currently in jail.
With every chapter alternating between Catherine and Cathy, it is impossible not to become utterly sucked into this tale. Catherine is young, friendly, flirtatious, and sexy; she drinks into the night, she finds different men to take home every week, and she discards her loneliness in a sea of friends. When she meets Lee--handsome, intelligent, caring--at first neither she nor her friends can believe her luck. While Lee keeps odd work hours and often dodges career-related questions, their relationship is stellar in every other regard--particularly in bed. Yet, week by week, month by month, Catherine begins to realize that her perfect relationship is not quite as it seems. Lee isn't so much besotted with her as he is obsessed with her, eager to control every aspect of her life from who she meets to when and where she meets them.
Reading Catherine's experience, side-by-side with Cathy's present-day problems as a result of her abusive relationship with Lee, is jarring. Catherine and Cathy hardly seem like the same person but, gradually, we can see how Lee's influence has Catherine become the cautious, timid, and often scared heroine that Cathy has become. Cathy suffers from both OCD and PTSD and the vivid descriptions of her symptoms--their direct influence in inhibiting her day-to-day lifestyle--are depressing. I found it difficult to read, particularly as my mother suffers from mild anxiety attacks on occasion and reading of a much more severe version of a similar illness was truly upsetting. Haynes captures Cathy's life so realistically, though, her facts spot-on as Cathy abhors any slight change to her schedule. Including her new neighbor, Stuart. Stuart is a therapist and recognizes Cathy's symptoms upon meeting her but their relationship isn't easy. In fact, juxtaposed with the ease in which Catherine fell into a relationship with Lee it's downright difficult.
But I really, really loved Stuart. First and foremost, he never "saves" or "heals" Cathy. If anything, he gives her the encouragement and support that she needs to seek help and follow her treatment. Moreover, their relationship isn't centered around Cathy's illness but rather around her. Reading Catherine and Lee's volatile relationship is like seeing a painting; the end result without knowing the work that went into it. Even when Catherine likes Lee, before he begins to hurt her, Lee hardly takes the time to get to know the real her, the one beneath the party-going and fun exterior. By the time he should, it's already too late and Catherine is terrified, desperately seeking a way to escape. Suddenly, their entire relationship becomes about Catherine's fear; the desperation she feels as Lee isolates her from her remaining friends and alienates her, alone and hurting. In contrast, Stuart seeks to know Cathy as an individual and as they fall in love, despite the stumbles and mistakes in their courtship, we know it's real; it's genuine and it's here to stay.
Into the Darkest Corner, however, thrives off of suspense. First, it's the suspense in Lee and Catherine's relationship--the unanswered questions. How did Catherine get away? When did they catch Lee? What mistake did he finally make that allowed Catherine to escape? Due to the short, alternating chapters it is never possible to forget Lee. Even when Cathy is moving on and having a good day, we remember Catherine from four years ago and the trauma she suffered--pain that still lives on in the form of scars on Cathy's body or simply the mental torture she's had to live with day-after-day. One of the strongest aspects of this novel was the fact that Lee charmed his way into Catherine's life and systematically turned her friends against her. None of them, let alone her best friend Sylvia, could understand how Catherine could be unhappy with Lee. So what if he was intense? So what if he wanted to know where she was and what she was doing all the time? Didn't she know how lucky she was to have a man whose world revolved around her? Wasn't that the type of man every girl was trying to find? It's a real slap into a reality, both because Catherine's long-time friends choose to believe her short-term boyfriend instead of her and, moreover, because Lee is the kind of man girls are told to find--and that's terrifying. Not the abusive traits, of course, but the bare-bones structure of him is built from the perfect man of our dreams.
All of this only serves to make Lee so much more scarier than he could be otherwise, particularly as he doesn't look or act like an abuser; he just is one. Haynes builds a growing crescendo of suspense, here, as present-day Cathy must cope with the fact that Lee is about to be released from prison--and she's confident he's going to come after her. She doesn't know when he'll find her or how long it'll take him, but she knows that one day she'll wake up, check her apartment, and find Lee there in some form or the other. And that's absolutely terrifying.
Into the Darkest Corner was a novel I couldn't disentangle myself from. I became so worried and protective over Cathy, wanting her to find her own footing in life while simultaneously wanting to whisk her away to Mars so she could escape Lee once and for all. I haven't felt so emotionally attached to a character in awhile and it felt good, frankly, to care so much for this fictional woman and want everything to go right in her world, just for once. I love these stories; the ones that make you forget you're reading and transport you into another reality altogether. Cathy, Stuart, Sylvia, Lee...they're characters I may forget, admittedly, but the overwhelming amount of information shared in this novel about these types of abusive relationships and the suffering they can cause--that I won't forget.
I'd never read or heard of Elizabeth Haynes prior to this novel but, if her writing and command over characters are anything to go by, Into the Darkest Corner certainly won't be my last read by her.