Book Review: Too Close by Natalie Daniels
Too Close by Natalie Daniels is a haunting, edge-of-your-seat debut psychological thriller about a woman who has been institutionalized for a heinous crime and the psychiatrist assigned to her case who must uncover the truth beneath the madness.
Natalie Daniels’s Too Close is a fine psychological thriller that delves into the darkest corners of friendship and marriage. Daniels has a knack for writing about feelings and exploring how infidelity can be a catalyst for many things.
Too Close switches points of view between Emma, a forensic psychiatrist, and Connie, a mother accused of a horrible crime. Emma is great at what she does, but Connie’s mind can’t process what she did, and she has developed dissociative amnesia. Without knowing if she remembers or how she feels about it if she does, the law cannot put Connie on trial for her despicable actions. Emma works hard at helping Connie have a breakthrough and remember, but her own life starts crumbling as her insecurities are exacerbated by Connie’s presence in her life and force her to reconsider her crumbling marriage.
This is a novel about a crime that is wrapped in a narrative about how feelings can have devastating effects. Daniels is particularly adept at writing about the latter. Her prose is sharp and her insights are illuminating. Connie had what many would consider a perfect life, but a few cracks in that perfect life became deadly craters that swallowed her whole. Also, while most crime novels and thrillers deal with the hard drugs commonly associated with junkies (i.e., meth, heroin, and cocaine), Too Close shines a light into the shady world of soccer moms and the plethora of medications they can get from their psychiatrists.
While Daniels does many things well here, the writing itself is always at the center of everything. Many writers get caught up in descriptive language when trying to communicate feelings, but Daniels does the opposite: her economy of language is at its best when talking about feelings and describing horrible moments:
The sky is dark now. It feels as if a great black mouth is about to swallow the entire planet. I jump as the rain hits the window like machine-gun fire. I can’t see my leaf any more. It feels like I’m falling. Everything is always spoilt in the end, nothing good can last. We are born alone, we die alone and no one can be trusted. I hang my head. I can hear it first, a kind of roar. I have to do something about it; I have to stop it. I sit up straight and clench my first. I punch myself in the jaw as hard as I can. It feels good. I try to do it again but she reaches out and takes my wrists firmly in her hands. We struggle for a moment. I can hear her calling out and someone opening the door. She wraps me up in those strong arms of hers. I’m still struggling. She’s holding me tight; she’s got more resolve that I do. I am weak. I crumble.
Too Close possesses a few elements that make it an enjoyable read. The two main ones are the way the author explores the devastating effects of infidelity and what emotional turmoil can become when drugs enter the picture. Connie is not in a great place, but the pharmaceutical escapes she seeks push her in the opposite direction and affect her brain chemistry in bizarre ways. When compounded with stress and heartbreak, the results are so overwhelming her entire sense of self shatters.
I changed quite rapidly. My joy had upped and gone and I couldn’t find it. I was cynical and suspicious with everyone—including myself. How could I have been so wrong about these people closest to me? If they were not who I thought they were then therefore neither was I.
Writing about feelings isn’t easy, especially within the context of a psychological thriller. Daniels does a great job of this, and she does it while mapping out the strange terrain of female-female friendships and how some of what happens in them resembles some of the processes that most couples go through. This makes Too Close a strange hybrid that’s part crime novel, part psychological thriller, and part literary fiction narrative about how our sense of self changes depending on who we spend time with and how they interact with those we love most.