Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Perfect Stranger.
Presenting a unique perspective on the trials of young women trapped in a cycle of violence, Megan Miranda’s sophisticated prose propels a nascent sense of danger reminiscent of Agatha Christie. Her heroines always seem to be stumbling upon nefarious characters and suspicious goings-on with the same hapless propensity as Christie’s Miss Marple, but with an edgy, modern, and at times
ferocious twist to their fate. Narrated primarily by journalist Leah Stevens, The Perfect Stranger tells the story of Leah’s desperate search for Emmy, her enigmatic roommate.
On the run from Boston, Emmy and Leah have come to live in an isolated town in Western Pennsylvania in the hope they can remake their lives. They’ve been renting a house together, and Leah has recently found a job as a teacher at the local high school while mercurial Emmy works nights at a motel lobby. We aren’t quite sure why the
two were forced to leave Boston, only that Leah wanted to undertake “a major life change.”
The good times seem like they'll go on forever--until Emmy inexplicably vanishes in a scenario that seems both irrational and selfish.
The first hint of trouble ahead comes when the police find the battered and bruised body of local girl Bethany Jarvitz lying by the lake, not far from Leah’s new home: “someone hit her pretty good and left her here.” Leah’s initial reaction is that it has nothing to do with either her or Emmy.
She’s primarily reluctant to have her name tied to a string of events that she’s desperate to leave behind, actions revolving around a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit as well as the intimidations of her boss, whose voice constantly
reverberates in Leah’s mind: “My God, Leah, what did you do?”
Miranda maneuvers Leah’s point-of-view with a conjuror’s sleight of hand, from the investigation into Emmy’s desertion--which sets the plot in motion--to Leah and Emmy’s past in Boston. Leah rolls through her days, probing for answers, first with Kyle Donovan, then with her boss, Mitch Sheldon.
She’s finally forced into a corner by Theo Burton, one of her students. Theo appears to know more about Emmy’s whereabouts than he’s letting on. Leah’s stomach twists
as she thinks of what evidence the police might already have: the recent calls, Cobb’s phone records: “I saw it in everything, the threat, the menace, the potential for violence. Emmy somewhere with her boyfriend, Jim, forgetting to call while I am starting life anew.”
As the days unfold, we tumble back to Leah memories: the Boston basement apartment, the epicenter of Emmy’s obsession and where a young drifter was looking for something more than what she had. From the moment Emmy hopped off the wall and looked at her, Leah innocently clung to her new friend, forever existing inside the sharper edges: “there was something in her past that was hidden as there was in mine.” It is impossible not to worry about Emmy, who moves on impulse and is perhaps part of a larger
tragic adventure. Sources on Emmy’s whereabouts come from everywhere, tips that turn out to be lies or gross overstatements, facts twisted with a malicious undercurrent and self-righteous indignation that fail stand up to closer inspection.
The novel’s sense of suspense is complemented by Leah's desperate emotional spirals
as she converges with Kyle to learn Emmy's never-dreamed-of fate. When the school’s part-time basketball coach, Davis Cobb, is arrested for Bethany’s assault, Leah finally admits to Kyle that Cobb had showed up drunk at her door one night. A married, respectable member of society, Cobb’s incarceration
jolts Leah’s tenuous hold on reality and the ongoing mystery of Emmy’s whereabouts. Who exactly is this girl who walked into Leah’s life? Leah
realizes that she’s knows little about Emmy. Perhaps Emmy is not a victim after all, but a perpetrator: “I wanted so desperately to believe that I had not been blinded by her too.”
Until now, Emmy’s life has been bunch of “half-assed” alternate possibilities, each rancid with desperation.
The Perfect Stranger reeks with a ghostly, subversive tone, from the scratching under Leah’s porch
and the spectral noises at night to the figure in the woods. Everything changed when Bethany was found down by the lake, the same day Leah realized that Emmy had gone. Throughout, Emmy--this dark-haired nemesis--holds secrets of her own. There’s a tension in simply waiting for the story to build to its inevitable end, where an undelivered rage festering for years leaves Leah reeling but determined to exact revenge
for her best friend’s calculated betrayal.