Book Review: The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine or how not to write a novel

Yes, this is a book review. Yes, this is a podcast site/film blog. No this doesn’t belong here. Yes I’m writing it anyway. No I did not like it. Yes I hated it so much I considered creating a column on bad books so I could. Yes I’m still weighing that. No I won’t do it yet.

I want to start this review by establishing something right off the bat. I love trashy, sleazy thrillers, be they true or false. Gone Girl? Loved the book and movie. The Girl on the Train? With it hardcore until the predictable climax. James Patterson? Read his Alex Cross books in high school. Law & Order: SVU? Sure I’ll watch. The canon on Ann Rule? Gimme. Investigation Discovery? Put it on a loop. This genre is an addiction for me. So when I come for this book, I’m not a high minded snob. I’m someone who actively wanted a good wallow in the mud. What I got barely seemed fit for publication.

The Last Mrs Parrish by sisters Lynn and Valerie Constantine (written under the pseudonymous first name Liv) is one of the worst novels I’ve ever read. It’s a long slog that wants so badly to capture the magic of the works I listed above but it can’t for so many reasons. Why? Let’s use bullet points to get through this. Full spoilers ahead but I don’t want you to read this book.

  • The plot is absurdly confusing and annoyingly simple all at once. Con artist Amber wants to steal wealthy socialite Daphne’s seemingly perfect husband Jackson. Except Jackson is a violent abuser and Daphne realizes quickly Amber is a con artist so she decides to manipulate Amber and Jackson into falling in love, getting together, and destroying the marriage. Except that’s kind of clearly Amber’s plan from the start. Except she may have been manipulated further than she planned. Except again so what, that was her plan.
  • Amber is clearly an attempt at creating a new Amy Dunne. But whereas Amy was a blast to be in the head of, Amber is painful. She’s mean. She looks down on literally everything she sees. She can’t stand anybody she meets. Nothing makes her happy except sex and money. Amy was clever, funny, and took real joy in her villainy. She wasn’t any nicer but you were so fascinated by her you had fun. Besides her plot was a masterwork of evil Lex Luthor would envy. Amber’s plans are basically “tell lies based on research, steal, and lie some more.”
  • Daphne however is not much better. She’s sympathetic as an abuse victim still mourning her sister but her plot is also surface manipulation and lies. Furthermore her eventual plot involves getting Jackson turned in for embezzlement once his sand Amber’s son is born. So her grand plot involves a child being born to a character who is clearly unfit to be a mother and a violent monster. Oh and we’re supposed to see her as a great mom. As a parent myself, this really bugged me.
  • But then there’s Jackson. He’s so over the top evil he doesn’t work. Yes, I’ve read characters like him in true crime books. They had the benefit of being true and even then they were usually nuanced. Once we see the truth about him, he’s all but a joke. He’s so image driven but there’s not even a token bit of nuance. Furthermore he’s omnipotent, able to set up a scheme where his wife is committed to a mental hospital and he can threaten her with it at any time. Oh and at one point he ruins cupcakes Daphne is making by urinating on them. Real book, y’all.
  • Then there’s the rape. This book is laden with sexual violence and not one bit of it is needed. Without it, Jackson is already an unbearable beast. This takes it way, way too far. There are several scenes of marital rape and they’re degrading and horrifying to read. There are multiple scenes involving a gun in the bedroom that made me glad this was a library read.
  • OK, so the plot is a bafflement. The characters are agonizing. The book goes way too far into sexual violence. Is it well written otherwise? God no! The book is written in flat, description free prose. A laundry list of details are given but adjectives are absent. I couldn’t picture anything. Not to bring up Gone Girl again but Gillian Flynn painted that world so clearly the movie felt like telepathy in recreating it.
  • The book also switches perspectives so poorly. The first act, Amber’s, is in third person limited. The second is told by Daphne in first person limited. The third, which cuts between the two women, is in third person for both. Where the hell was the editor! This is a massive failing. Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train both juggled multiple first person povs and did it great. All you need to do is identify the speaker at the start of the chapter. It’s easy.
  • It’s also so clear they know nothing about this world. There’s a shallowness to it. The brands that are brought up are things I knew as with zero interest in society living in Little Rock, AR. If you’re going to write about the rich, know it. I could tell they didn’t.

This book really enrages me. And it shouldn’t. It’s just one of 6000 books that come out every year. It’s nothing. But I have to paraphrase the great Pauline Kael: Fiction is so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in it. I do appreciate great trash. It’s what told me this book was just straight trash.

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