Publishers avidly search for the next great novel since bestseller Gone Girl, each new title claiming a similarity. AJ Finn's The Woman in the Window dives a bit deeper to an earlier era, when classic suspense films in black and white featured tragic heroines in distress, psychological dramas with unexpected twists to strike fear into innocent victims. Protagonist Anna Fox, an agoraphobe imprisoned in a home she once loved, fits perfectly into this Hitchcockian scenario, bingeing on classic films, consoling herself with prescriptions and alcohol. Finn draws on this image: a woman alone seeking respite any way she can.
Exiled from her husband and daughter, Anna haunts her own house, sometimes slipping into daughter Olivia's room: "I haunt her room like a ghost." Grateful for night's gentle embrace, it is Anna's habit to make a selection of old films, as though visiting with old friends. When the loneliness is too great to bear, Anna lifts her Nikon and spies on neighbors nearby, focusing on the details of their lives, often able to predict their movements. When a moving van arrives at an empty house across the park, Anna is curious, watching the placement of furniture in each room and, finally, the family as well, a man, a woman, a teenaged son. Their windows without drapes and open to outside passersby, the newcomers are a welcome respite from the private demons she is unable to exorcise. Enjoying the new source of entertainment, she follows the drama across the way--until one night when Anna sees something she wasn't meant to.
Not only does Finn capture the days of terror that ensue after Anna is shaken by a violent scene, but she explores the protagonist's emotional struggle, a woman easily dismissed for her self-destructive use of pills and Merlot, not to mention her agoraphobia. There are moments when Anna tries to overcome her fear of what lies beyond her door, her small forays outside humiliating. People stare at her frantic attempts to return to the only place she is safe. After the violence she witnesses, no one will take her report seriously. She is left alone to piece together the real from the imagined. The characters move in and out of the story, the family across the way, the teen son she has recently befriended, the local detectives (one kind, the other brutally dismissive), Anna's basement tenant, all fade. Anna inhabits this nightmare alone. Whatever clarity she earns threatens the security of the environment she has constructed to survive the world.
Black-and-white images flickering on the walls of the room, subdued voices murmuring familiar phrases, Anna drinks her glasses of Merlot one after another, recalling moments of pure marital bliss, the laughter of a daughter at play, those she loves sad specters in their absence, now mere voices on the phone. Safe in her cocoon, that one moment of violence has shattered the night like a gunshot. Nothing is right. She is not safe here anymore. Marrying classic mysteries with hypnotic, lyrical prose, shadows fill each corner, flicker, the stage set for an unnerving and imaginative thriller: a woman in distress, with only herself to depend on. Hitchcock would be proud.