Book Review: This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel

From Stephanie Wrobel, the USA Today bestselling and Edgar-nominated author of Darling Rose Gold comes This Might Hurt, a dark, thrilling novel about two sisters—one trapped in the clutches of a cult, the other in a web of her own lies.

This Might Hurt starts with a gory bang, as an unnamed artist performs a gruesome act of self-mutilation in defiance of fear:

“Fear is not real,” she says, unless we make it so.”

 

She sits down.

 

Picks up the shears.

 

Extends her tongue.

 

Cuts.

 

Gasps but does not cry.

 

The camera catches it all. On the screens the audience watches a tongue split in half. Someone faints. Others wail. Not the artist. She remains steady.

 

Blood pours from her mouth.

This ongoing struggle to master fear, and to inspire others to do the same, forms the backbone of this complex psychological thriller. Told from multiple perspectives, Stephanie Wrobel’s sophomore novel is a dazzling feat of sleight of hand. Delving deep into the subject of trauma and how it warps people, it examines the lengths some people will go to in order to overcome the phobias born of their pasts, no matter what the cost.

Natalie Collins is a hard-charging marketing executive whose underlying guilt at not being a good enough caretaker for her younger sister comes to a head when she receives a cryptic e-mail. Kit has apparently gone on a long sabbatical to an exclusive island resort in Maine called Wildwood. It’s the kind of place where you surrender your cellphone at the gate, and commit yourself to cutting yourself off from the outside world for the duration of your stay. For most guests, that means six months, which is about the amount of time Kit’s been away when Nat gets the alarming missive, warning her that the sender will tell Kit what she’s done unless she comes to Wildwood to confess in person.

Spurred into action, Nat immediately takes a leave of absence from work and heads north to find her sister. Most of the guests at Wildwood seem ordinary enough, with many being Type A personalities like herself, who have just burned out and need respite from their overachieving lives back home. But the staff strikes Nat as being deeply weird, with cultish overtones that further convince her that she needs to rescue her sister and bring Kit home:

The Kit I know is trusting but has a bullshit detector. She assumes the best in a person until they give her a reason not to. She’ll let you use her, but only to a point. How could she think this place is the answer? Throughout our lives I’ve tried to teach her to be more skeptical, even heartless when necessary. She won’t have it; she wants to believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. Which is how I find myself in places like this, dragging my sister back to reality. She loses sight of it more than anyone I’ve ever met.

But Kit isn’t the same damaged young woman who first came to Wildwood almost half a year ago. She’s changed, and will stop at nothing to protect this place she’s come to love like no other. Will the sisters be able to bridge the gulf between them, or will sinister forces tear them apart for good?

Despite the many clues Ms. Wrobel lays out for the reader throughout the course of this suspenseful novel, it’s hard not to be surprised by the audacious twists the plot takes as it navigates two disparate interior lives that are hopelessly and tragically intertwined. I do enjoy books that use the question of whether or not something is a cult as one of their main plot points, and I thoroughly enjoyed how this novel not only invoked that but turned it inside out to dramatic and moving effect. Whether offered by a cult or otherwise, it’s hard not to be seduced by any practical plan to conquer fear, to fully embrace life and one’s own potential. But limits exist for a reason, as Ms Wrobel so masterfully shows in this wildly original, haunting novel of sisters and sacrifices.

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