Saturday, August 1, 2015

6 Heart Review: Little Black Lies by Sandra Block

Little Black Lies
Sandra Block

Page Count: 352

Release Date: February 17th 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Wunderkind PR!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

She helps people conquer their demons. But she has a few of her own...

In the halls of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is a resident in training, dedicated to helping troubled patients. However, she has plenty of baggage of her own. When Zoe becomes obsessed with questions about her own mother's death, the truth remains tauntingly out of reach, locked away within her nightmares of an uncontrollable fire. And as her adoptive mother loses her memory to dementia, the time to find the answers is running out.

As Zoe digs deeper, she realizes that the danger is not just in her dreams but is now close at hand. And she has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most. Because what she can't remember just might kill her.

Little Black Lies is about madness and memory—and the dangerous, little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
I pop the pill into my mouth and climb back in bed. My brain slows to a thrum, listening to the Xanax. Arms jelly, legs jelly, brain jelly, melting into the bed. But before I fade off, the finest gossamer of a thought sticks in my brain like a burr.
The fire. After twenty years, why am I dreaming about the fire?

Even after the finality of my 3-out-of-5-star rating for Little Black Lies, I still find the premise completely fascinating. The psychological thriller genre is one among my favorites, and combined with my personal/professional interest in the field (I'm currently studying psychopathology), I couldn't resist picking this one up. While the originality of the plot and extensive psychiatric research and experience that went into this book impress me greatly, I do have to say this book isn't exactly the thriller I expected—or wanted—it to be.

Dr. Zoe Goldman has a tragic past, having lost her birth family in a housefire as a baby. As an adult though, she's doing quite all right because she doesn't remember any of it. This was a fabulous starting point—I love the idea. Sudden dreams and flashbacks of the fire, which she hasn't had since she was a very young child, coincide with the arrival of her newest patient, Sophia Vallano, a beautiful sociopath who murdered her own mother. As both the nightmares and paranoia intensify and Zoe's own psychiatric care begins to go awry, she becomes obsessed with questions about her birth mother's death, including what really happened in that fire, especially when her adoptive mother begins to slip up on Zoe's own life facts, which are too eery to be due to the dementia.

The premise is excellent, and in summary, the book sounds complete. Completely for me. Unfortunately the poor characterization and technical annoyances disappointed me immensely, rendering the book to fall short of what I was initially hoping for.

My first problem was with Zoe herself; even acquainted with her as a first-person narrator, I just couldn't connect with her voice. She's clearly intelligent and very grounded, but as a character, she is stiff, more intellectual and mechanical than relatable. The few sequences of emotion she displays (sympathy for her mom, attraction to her boyfriend, etc.) come off very unconvincingly, which I feel is more an issue with Block's writing than anything else. In the same vein, I didn't like any of the characters in the book, so this reinforces the notion that Zoe isn't just a megabitch, but that the author created weak characters in general. While well edited and concise, Block's hand lacks the fluidity and style that a good novel needs to really reel me in.

That being said, I had no problem reading the book or following the plot. The directness and clarity of the story's progression made it effortless to get through, which is saying a lot, provided the disorientating nature of Zoe's random, mentally unstable flashbacks of her childhood. Block takes two distinct story lines—one in the present and one in the past, that, together, would otherwise be very confusing—and has produced a readable, manageable novel, which is a feat in and of itself.

The rising tension in the novel is so prolonged, that it actually eventually got boring... but I still didn't hate it. I was definitely engaged in following Zoe's journey of discovering the inconsistencies between her unreliable memory, actual childhood, and what she was told by her adoptive parents growing up.

My biggest quip is with the climax/ending. The entire point of the book was to culminate in a dark dangerous secret (which I will abbreviate as D.D.S. from now on) that even the synopsis on the back cover hints at, but it just didn't enthrall or terrify me, as a good thriller should. The climax isn't predictable necessarily—by which I mean, it did surprise me. However the D.D.S. revealed didn't exactly have me reeling, either; it was rather inevitable, and even the back cover teased it in the back of my mind from the beginning, so it was rather anticlimactic.

Pros


Original plot // Interesting medical/psychiatric background and terminology // Creative intentions

Cons


Not the most stylistically written // Inevitable, not-so-frightening D.D.S. // Hopeful premise, but overall not memorable or remarkable // Romance subplot not only is irrelevant/disjointed, but also cringe-worthy and clichéd // Zoe is a straightforward, no-nonsense protagonist, but rather irritating and unlikable // Weak secondary characters

Verdict


Slow paced, technically flawed, and lacking in developed and believable characters, Little Black Lies was a let-down for me all-around—mostly due to my enormous anticipation for it as a psychological thriller. Psychological and at times thrilling? Well, sure, but it's not one of those searing, edge-of-your-seat, mind-blowing thrillers, mostly due to its languid, stretched-out rising action and unavoidable climax. There are moments in the story, especially regarding the solidly researched and written medical topics, that did indeed excite me, but overall Sandra Block's debut novel doesn't particularly stand out to me as a top recommendation Americanflag

6 hearts: Decent for a first read, but I'm not going back; this book is decidedly average (whatever that means!) (x)