Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda is a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage … or a life.
Four paragraphs into Kaira Rouda’s Best Day Ever and I’ve learned that our protagonist, Paul Strom, is a grade-A asshole. So why do I want to keep reading his story? It’s intriguing, at first, that the author would make that choice—to immediately alert the reader that we’re not going to like this guy. But I had to find out what she had in store for us next.
Paul and his wife, Mia, are getting ready to go on a weekend trip to their lake house. It’s just the two of them for the first time since they’ve had kids, and according to Paul, it’s going to be the best day ever. He has lots of plans. And they are all a surprise. But as the trip continues, tension mounts. Mia is ruining everything. I mean, how dare she question Paul. He’s right about everything. He’s in charge. It’s all going to be perfect, just like their perfect little family.
Paul is constantly reminding us—reassuring himself more than anything else, it seems—of his personal successes:
Personally, I have to admit I love the implied success I feel being able to drive out of my very nice neighborhood, my wife by my side, on a Friday morning on my way to my second home. I am driving a Ford Flex, navy exterior, by choice. Supporting America while demonstrating that my ego does not require a fancy sports car or luxury sedan. No, I am secure in my status and a family man, all rolled into one. The American dream, that’s what we’re living right here.
And I have to admit that I kept reading this delusional man’s story because the marketing for this book said it’s a thriller, and I was hoping something really, really bad would happen to him.
Unreliable narrators are sort of the best kind of narrators—especially in a thriller like this one—but as Rouda mentions in her author’s note, we are all unreliable narrators in our own lives. We carefully curate a persona we project out into the world, and we often do it so well that we believe it ourselves. We edit out the parts we don’t like, conveniently forgetting that time we said a cruel thing to a classmate or told a lie to a loved one. But Rouda takes this idea and spirals it down into a much darker place.
What happens when the Patrick Batemans of the world, the ones who lack total empathy, deny those small moments or dismiss them as everyday occurrences? Even though we hide those dark parts from ourselves, empathy keeps us in check, keeps us from repeating the behavior, hopefully. But not Paul Strom.
Some get their “feelings” hurt. As if a feeling could be hurt. Strange, us humans, stranger still. I’ve told you I’m a student of emotional reactions. And I’m an actor. I’ve studied how to imitate the reactions one is supposed to have: tears for sadness, or at least droopy eyes. Smile and twinkling eyes for joy. You know the rest. You’ve probably learned how to fake some yourself. I mean, are you as heartbroken about a friend’s dog dying as you say you are on Facebook? Come on. It’s a dog. Though I’m sure you probably feel more emotions than I do. I feel anger and lust, mostly. Sometimes, I must admit, I feel proud of myself.
What a creeper. As Mia and Paul get closer to their lake house, we get closer to some inevitable, terrible end. But will it be Mia who loses this battle or Paul? We certainly have a favorite in this fight as he confides in us, a silent observer. Convincing us to be on his side, thinking he’s only revealing the best parts of himself. Not realizing that we’re on to him. Is Mia picking up on these clues too? Or is she obliviously heading towards something she can’t imagine?
Best Day Ever gives us a disturbing and all-too-intimate look inside the mind of a thoroughly delusional antihero in a slow burn psychological thriller that will keep you guessing right to the last page.
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Ardi Alspach was born in Florida, raised in South Carolina, and now resides in New York City with her cat and an apartment full of books. By day, she's a publicist, and by night, she's a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ardyceelaine or check out her website at ardyceelaine.wordpress.com.