Title: Poison: A Novel
Author: Galt Neiderhoffer
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
About the book…
Poison : A Novel by Galt Neiderhoffer is a contemporary psychology thriller that follows Cass Connor as she treads through uneven and dangerous waters with her husband Ryan, their baby and her two kids from her previous marriage. Cass and Ryan’s relationship started off without a hitch and marriage came soon after. There was trust, they had a plan and a mutual goal, Ryan was the perfect step-father to Cass’ kids and their baby was welcomed into their lives happy and healthy. To the outside world, the Connor’s were the picture perfect family, and Cass was nothing short of a walking, breathing goddess among the other soccer moms of the small town they lived in, all of whom lived in awe and envy of Cass’ multitasking abilities. After all, she was a part-time professor at her local university, counted with no paid help around the house and was a full-time wife and mother of three young kids.
Even behind closed doors, if you were to spy through a crack of their door or even look through the window for a few seconds, you’d see a perfectly functional family. However, if you peered inside for more than a few minutes, you could spot and feel the slightest tension among them, see the tired and resentful looks from Mom to Dad, hear the sharp and demeaning retorts from Dad to Mom; if you were to enter their house and live in their world for a few 300 pages like Niederhoffer allows the reader to do, you would see the jealousy and secrets that threaten to tear Cass’ and Ryan’s marriage apart, the resentment and guilt boiling under the surface and something far more dangerous that will cause Cass, and the reader, to wonder if she is losing her mind.
What I Liked…
Poison doesn’t tell the story of just Cass Connor but the story of a million women around the world today. Voiceless, helpless, victims whose attackers go unpunished and whose scars and trauma are minimized. Wives that are subject to the vicious and long-standing cycle of domestic abuse in all its forms.
One thing I applaud in this novel is how Neiderhoffer doesn’t just limit the story to a couple stuck in a pattern of domestic violence. She gives both Ryan and Cass a background from which we can draw conclusions and theorize over how they ended up where they are now. For instance, Cass comes from a broken and dysfunctional family, estranged with her maternal figure from a young age. After suffering through her first husband’s death, she comes into this marriage vulnerable and weak, self-esteem plummeting after having to adjust her career path to fit her housewife schedule and her new husband’s career. Add to that Ryan’s reputation with the ladies and his flirtatious manner with everyone and we got ourselves an extremely jealous and suspicious wife. On the other hand, Ryan comes from his own dysfunctional household, kicked out early on, history of drugs, alcohol, troubling teenage years and a life that forced him to fend for himself very young. He is an angry, bitter person that preys on Cass’ weakness, a master manipulator of her emotions with his charms, easy smiles and empty promises. Knowing this, analyzing the characters and how they came to be makes every scene, fight and dialogue with these two very real – they weren’t two characters fighting, they were two people stuck in a clear cycle of abuse all throughout the book : the tension-building, the explosive incident and the reconciliation followed by the honeymoon phase, which shortened and shortened until only the period of ‘incident’ or ‘tension’ remained.
What I Didn’t Like…
The one true qualm I have about this book is the pacing. It lulled around 50 or 60% of the book before picking up again. The story could’ve been told in fewer pages if it weren’t for the constant repetition and unnecessary descriptions. There were times I skimmed through the pages, especially in that FOUR PAGE-LONG DESCRIPTION OF ARSENIC (seriously uncalled for, just saying), and at some points even found myself wondering if I should DNF it.
The only thing that makes this book a page-turner is the uncertainty Neiderhoffer plants in the reader about Cass’ mental stability. There is no doubt that she is being abused, but is it really as bad as she says? Is Ryan really the big monster she makes him out to be? Everyone’s questioning of Cass’ rationality and mental state is a very real reflection on what actually happens in real life, where a woman’s claim is subject to doubt because of her gender’s “propensity” to “irrationality” and “overreaction”. There’s definitely a moment where the reader thinks and feels like most of society today – indifferent and incredulous in the face of a woman’s suffering. Cass’ suspicions and theories sound far-fetched and paranoid enough to make everyone in the book doubt. Proof doesn’t come until late in the book and by then, the reader has drawn a million theories and conclusions, all of which, in my case, were wrong (there is definitely a twist at the end 😉).
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