Beware the Woman: A Novel

  • By Megan Abbott
  • G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  • 304 pp.

Is a mom-to-be in genuine danger or slowly going crazy?

Beware the Woman: A Novel

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know where Megan Abbott was headed in Beware the Woman. I suspected — from her previous writings — that her new book would be another noirish thriller. Then, after seeing all the talk about pregnancy and bodily fluids (mostly blood) coming from the heroine’s nether regions, I thought perhaps a Rosemary’s Babyish experience awaited. After all, just about everything takes place in a house deep in the woods inhabited by “friendly” relatives and a few strange characters, including one who reminded me of Nurse Ratched.

Oh, yes, there were also some strange animal noises, frequent mentions of mountain lions, and even a passing reference to Sasquatch.

There’s not much I can reveal about the actual narrative, though, without giving away too much of the game ahead of the story’s shocking conclusion — which I never saw coming. The only thing I will say is that the butler didn’t do it. And that’s really only because there is no butler. (I’m reminded of the time I went to a Murder Mystery Night. As a mystery writer myself, I assumed I’d finger the killer immediately. In turns out, the actual culprit was so low on my list that I would’ve protested his innocence had he murdered me.)

The convoluted plot in Beware the Woman concerns the pregnant, newly married Jacy, who, with her husband, Jed, drives cross-country to visit her father-in-law, the widowed Dr. Ash. (Jed’s mother is long dead.) Jacy soon feels loved by the good doctor and just about everyone else, except Nurse Ratched, er, Mrs. Brandt, the house manager and chief cook and bottle washer of the Ash manse in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

A pregnancy problem (see “bodily fluids,” above) forces Jacy to abandon her plans of a peaceful, carefree vacation, as everyone begins doting on her. Soon, she feels trapped by all the doting. Visits from a local doctor, who is a pal of Dr. Ash (hence my “Rosemary’s Baby” suspicions), complicate matters. Sonograms go missing. The Ash family history turns out to be less than idyllic. And that pesky mountain lion keeps screaming. Jacy calls her pediatrician and her mother from a landline; cellphone service is spotty. (Cue the ominous music.)

Meanwhile, Jed drinks too much and hangs around with old friends — and girlfriends — at a local gin mill. Jacy begins to wonder if she really knows her husband. His father makes it clear he disapproves of his son’s behavior. Jacy remembers her mother’s warnings about men in general and Jed in particular.

For my money, everything evolves too slowly, and the ending, while shocking, seems implausible. That’s not to say Abbott is a bad writer. Her descriptions are wonderful. Every time someone got bitten by a mosquito (why are these people always eating outside?), I felt like scratching. Various procedures and dead things are rendered quite colorfully, to say the least. And Jacy and Jed frequently — and vigorously — hop in the sack (or onto the counter), although given Jacy’s delicate condition, much of the sex happens in flashbacks.

Beware the Woman is not for the faint of heart. The gloom is so pervasive that Michigan’s tourism board could probably sue. There’s hardly a glimmer of humor anywhere. It is also very much a woman’s book. Heck, even the mountain lion, who finally makes a belated appearance, is a mom.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that most women would’ve handled things better than Jacy. She comes across as a bit of a wimp. I suspect Abbott’s intention was to create a situation where the reader was unsure whether Jacy was in real danger or was just being paranoid, but it left me feeling manipulated by all the McGuffins and red herrings.

Of course, I’m the guy who cleverly deduced that everything and everybody from a cougar to Sasquatch must’ve been the one whodunit.

Lawrence De Maria is the author of more than 30 thrillers and mysteries, all available on Amazon in print and e-book form. He writes a regular column, “The Write Stuff,” for the Independent.

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