23 February 2016

+JMJ+

Reading Diary: A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark

"Oh, Erich, you scared me," she said. "I didn't hear you come in."

His eyes never left her face. "I thought you'd want your gown, darling," he said. "Here it is."

He was holding an aquamarine satin nightgown with a deep V cut in the front and back.

"Erich, I have a new gown. Did you just buy this one for me?"

"No," Erich said. "It was [my mother's]. He ran his tongue nervously over his lips. He was smiling strangely. His eyes as they rested on her were moist with love. When he spoke again, his tone was pleading. "For my sake, Jenny, wear it tonight."

It has been yonks since I read a modern Gothic novel (or as we say in modern literary terminology, a Thriller), and A Cry in the Night was the perfect way to break my "fast." It definitely ticked all the Gothic boxes . . . Naive heroine who at one point runs around in a nightgown? Check. Brooding hero who might actually be the villain? Check. An exotic setting? Oh, wintry Minnesota is so exotic! A castle or large manor house with secret rooms? And then some! Supernatural agents? Well, more or less. At least one really nasty Catholic? I'm pleased to say that we apparently can't have everything. =P

Reading this also reminded me of the nineteenth-century attitude toward novels. You weren't really reading if you were just reading a novel. In fact, far from improving your mind, you were probably rotting it. And if you were a young woman with a Gothic novel, well, you were also contributing to the ruin of your character. A Cry in the Night may only be my first Mary Higgins Clark novel, but I already know that I won't get any credit for reading it. But who cares? I finished it in one night and wished I had a book club to discuss it with.

My big question for them would be: If you had been Jenny, at point would you have been certain that something was terribly wrong with your marriage?

I might have freaked as early as the nightgown on their wedding night.

She stared at the canisters on the counter space. They took up so much room and were so seldom used. Every room here was formal, cold, overcrowded. It was her home. Surely Erich would be pleased if she put her own stamp on the place?

She made room for the canisters on a pantry shelf. The round oak table and chairs were perfectly centred in the middle of the room. Placed under the window on the south wall, they'd be infinitely more convenient to the buffet bar, and at meals it would be pleasant to look out at the far fields. Not caring if the table legs scuffed the floor, Jenny dragged it over . . .

And if I hadn't freaked at the nightgown, I would have at least blown my top if my husband's reaction to my redecorating had been anything like Erich's. I'll admit, though, that when I read the part about Jenny not caring about scuffing the floor, I was already thinking, "Ooooh, he's going to be so angry if you did!"

But it's quite in character for Jenny to keep looking the other way and rationalising Erich's strange behaviour. She may have been able to draw the line with her first husband by getting a divorce, but she still gives him money she knows she can't afford to lose whenever he swings by her apartment on payday. (Her payday, not his. He is an out-of-work actor. But since she doesn't want to say no to him, it might as well be his payday, too.) Never mind that he hasn't paid child support in months. Or that she's sure he cheated on her when they were married. Jenny is accommodating.

I can see why people might not be too happy to think that young women are lapping up books with a protagonist like Jenny. She's not the role model you'd want your daughters to have, although I doubt very highly that a steady diet of Mary Higgins Clark novels would be the only factor in a young woman turning out like one of her characters. It's also worth saying that Jenny does bear the consequences of her own flaws--some of them terrible enough to keep readers from wanting to be in her place. But why am I being so defensive here? =P Remember that if Jenny had been even a little more assertive, we wouldn't have this Thriller. And nobody reads a Thriller in order to prepare himself for marriage, anyway. (At least I hope not.)

All this begs the question of what place a Thriller has in the world. I'd have to read more of them before I can hazard an answer. But if you already have one, please let me know!

I have, however, read enough Thrillers to have seen one big twist coming even before Clark started tossing the red herrings at me. A Cry in the Night is an early novel of hers, though, so presumably she gets better at pulling the wool over our eyes. A bigger issue I take with the story is how garishly unbelievable the most shocking moment is. I know that Clark consulted with a psychiatrist to make her villain as realistic as possible, and I can recall True Crime stories of real-life psychos who did similar things, but I just don't buy it here.

What I would like to buy, in that other sense, are the German translations of Clark's novels. I saw lots of German covers when looking for just the right English cover for this post, and I wouldn't mind going through her oeuvre auf deutsch!

Image Source: A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark

2 comments:

Brandon said...

If you ever find a handy copy of the German version of her The Lottery Winner (just glancing through Goodreads, it looks like it might be titled Sechs Richtige Mordsgeschichten), I have the English on my shelf; it was, I think, one that my grandmother was reading at some point, so I've inherited it and haven't had a chance to read it at any point. It's apparently a set of short stories that are a kind-of sequel to another of Clark's works, Weep No More, My Lady -- 'kind-of' in the sense that it looks like the stories are not in any definite way sequels, but Clark wrote them because the character in the original work was so popular.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

My grandmother might have had a decent collection of Mary Higgins Clark novels herself, but I really wouldn't remember. She was the sort who could read something, like it very much, and never recommend it to anyone.

I'll keep that title in mind. Thanks!