This Is Not Over by Holly Brown follows a seemingly innocuous and soberingly real situation as it escalates to a shocking climax (available January 17, 2017).
Meet Dawn: Thirty years old, struggling financially, working on her bachelor’s degree, working to live up to her in-law’s expectations, and unsure if she wants a baby. She enjoys vacations in beautiful destinations like Santa Monica and regularly rents getaway homes for several days to feel like a new, hopeful person.
Meet Miranda: Sixty years old, in a bloodless marriage, and supporting her addict son while trying to get him into rehab. She volunteers, cooks dinners, and cares for her aging mother. She also owns a getaway home, which she rents out to people looking to be free from their real life for a little while.
After Dawn finishes renting Miranda’s home, she expects to have her security deposit returned. But Miranda returns only half of the deposit, claiming that Dawn and her husband left a “stain” on the bed sheets. Irritated, Dawn puts up a negative review on the rental website. Miranda sends angry texts. Each woman, convinced she is in the right, raises the stakes with each internet encounter. As their livelihoods become more and more threatened, it’s a question of which one will take it one step too far.
In This is Not Over, author Holly Brown—a practicing marriage and family therapist—brings to life the very realistic human impulse to fight back against a perceived wrong and the equally unhealthy impulse to escalate that fight. These two women, Dawn and Miranda, seem perfectly normal to the outside eye. Sure, they’re dealing with troubling family issues, past emotional trauma, and immediate stressors like school and work, but it’s nothing (okay, maybe something) you’d think would drive them to such extremes.
To understand this novel and the tension within it, you must first understand road rage. It starts with a small irritant, right? Someone doesn’t use their blinker and cuts in front of you. You honk your horn and flip the other driver the bird as you pass them in the right lane. Feeling like you’ve won this round, you drive on. Then, the other driver catches up to you and bumps your rear end at speed. This is not a joke. Someone in your car could’ve been hurt. You’re ready to call the cops. You pull over to check the damage, and the other driver pulls up behind you. Instead of apologizing, they tell you that you deserve it. Really angry now, you yell at them—push them in the chest maybe. They grab a gun. The whole situation gets out of hand very quickly.
Same with This is Not Over. Told in alternating first-person chapters, the reader is given both sides. Miranda sends Dawn a coldly worded email regarding stains on her bed sheets. Dawn doesn’t take kindly to it. From her review of Miranda’s getaway home:
I was checking the “pending transactions” on my credit card to see when my security deposit would be returned. I e-mailed the host, Miranda, to inquire about the delay. Miranda didn’t respond to my first e-mail, and her reply to my second was a curt “Just keep checking, it’ll show up.”
I wrote again a few days later to politely nudge her. I got an extremely unfriendly e-mail that accused me of leaving a stain that was “rather large (gray, about the size and shape of a typical house cat, though the house rental didn’t allow pets).” Because of that, she said she was deducting half of our security deposit (Getaway.com won’t let me say the amount, but you can do the math).
WHAT????!!!!! She’s accusing me of smuggling in a bedraggled cat? My husband and I are clean people, and we’re not blind. We would have seen a stain on the sheet. We’ve never left such a stain on our sheets in our entire lives…. It all seemed pretty crazy to me—like she’s just finding a way to keep our deposit, maybe as retaliation for me asking about it?…
This struck me as extremely shady. I know that other people have had different experiences (there are lots of four- and five- star reviews for this property, which is why we booked it to start with). But I thought we should share our experience and you can factor it into you decision of where to book.
And Miranda doesn’t take kindly to that. After a bitter e-mail exchange, Miranda texts Dawn:
We can agree to disagree. Remove your review and I’ll refund your $200.
I’m surprised Miranda is texting. I’d assumed she was one of those old people who used e-mail exclusively. So she does have my correct phone number after all. That means that I should have received the voicemail she supposedly left.
What about pain and suffering? I text back.
What does that mean?
Now she’s going to play dumb.
I mean, $200 covers the sheets, but it doesn’t cover everything.
All the aggravation. All the time I spent writing my review, and e-mailing back and forth with you. All the wasted energy.
I’m not the one who started it.
Yes, you did. You left the stain.
I DID NOT LEAVE THE STAIN!
And on it goes, each woman upping the ante. A mentally healthy person would—at any point—let it go. But neither of these women is emotionally prepared to say the situation is over. Both are dealing with personal situations. Both press the other’s buttons. Very often, to escape the immediate situation—a hateful text from a druggie son or the death of a parent, for example—one woman will make a hateful move that engages the other.
This is Not Over is not structured like a traditional thriller, but it touches on some very key points in modern life, so there’s plenty of tension to go around. Anyone who has written or received a nasty Yelp review will understand the impetus behind this story. Brown brings these two women to life with insight and sympathy. Sometimes it’s painfully realistic in its psychology. Hopefully, it never turns into a true crime story….
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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.
Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.