The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 35. From the villain’s perspective
Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 6. Household object on the cover, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area
I have some thoughts on Rachel Harrison. And some thoughts on Cackle. Some thoughts. And I’m going to say before anything, this is probably going to be my most spoiler-filled review ever, because there’s just no way to talk about the meat and potatoes of this story without ruining some of it for you – so if you plan on reading this at some point, bookmark my review and come back to it once you’ve finished this book.
After a breakup from a relationship that lasted ten years, Annie is forced to up and move from NYC to a remote town upstate called Rowan, where the townspeople are nice and the shops quaint, and take a new teaching job there. Luckily, as she’s settling in, she manages to befriend a sweet and welcoming woman of indeterminate age by the name of Sophie.
As Annie’s life becomes more droll and depressing, more chaotic and hard to deal with, her friendship with Sophie remains a constant. The women care for each other, Sophie dotes on Annie, and the mansion Sophie resides in becomes a harbor against the storm for Annie and her inner turmoil over her breakup. But weird things are adding up, and the townspeople’s original niceties begin to twist into something more like suspicion, until Annie’s not sure who the “good guy” is anymore.
So I guess my biggest thing with this is that in The Return, which obviously, I absolutely adored, there is some weird, ew, uncomfy feelings about the the main character’s relationship to others in the story. And I don’t mean that to come off as questionable romantic relationships. I’m actually referring to their friendships…Elise of The Return and Annie of Cackle both come from these dark pits of despair when they walk into the story. Whether it’s feelings of guilt or loss or both, they walk into our set stage just absolutely miserable. And I think, after reading both books, this is what makes them susceptible to the weird. To the horrific. What desensitizes them and draws them into it. The series of events that transpire before Rachel sits down to write these books perfectly positions them to accept the horrors of these toxic relationships.
Because that’s what Annie and Sophie are…a toxic relationship. Sophie is domineering and bossy, and a bit frightening. She uses gifts and showing constant, overbearing attention as a way to keep neglected, broken Annie coming back for more. Even when the signs could not be clearer that something is wrong, Annie convinces herself of Sophie’s goodwill in favor of being alone, or not being liked by someone as much as Sophie seems to like her. And it is Annie’s behavior and attitude, above all, that ruined this story for me. With the two of them like this, and Elise and Julie from the last novel like that…I can’t help but ask myself whether this is conscious or unconscious on Harrison’s part. Does she know she’s writing toxic relationships, or is she living them? That’s concerning in the way it comes out in her writing, in the way it’s romanticized, and in the way it plays out so horrifyingly.
Not to mention, this book is not nearly as scary as The Return. The Return scared the bejeezus out of me, kept me up at night! Cackle got me a few times with good jump scares, but nothing like it needed to be. Those jump scares are also never tied – there’s something missing from the end of this book that prevents it from being finished with a neat little bow. It didn’t do it for me in the horror capacity, and the story was lacking in that sense as well.
Clearly, there’s a point to this story. The not-so-subtle messaging about women, relationships, and power are center stage in this book, especially in the latter half. Obviously, being pop culture of a witchy nature, those themes are bound to come up, but I think they were meant to carry the novel in a way they just, *didn’t*. To some more inclined to think women can’t be truly wicked, I’m sure this novel is full of frights. To most who know the truth, this is nothing more than a revenge story turned empowered.
I wanted to like this. I wanted to LOVE this. But I just don’t, I can’t. Annie ruined it for me, and while I think Sophie was meant to be endearing to start, to persuade you like to her and follow Annie’s line of thinking, I disliked her from the first. It really surprised me just how much I didn’t care for Cackle when I absolutely loved Harrison’s debut and this one was supposed to be even better. Well. Can’t win them all.
My advice would be to skip this one, but I’m not against Rachel Harrison just yet. I will give her next release the good ol’ college try.
Have an awesome week, pals.