A guilty pleasure, Liv Constantine’s The Last Mrs. Parrish
aims to be a salacious modern-noir classic in the vein of Peter Swanson or the
Fifty Shades of Grey series. While it succeeds in telling an interesting tale of one woman's ambition to run off with untold riches while luring, procuring, and then jettisoning her so-called best friend, the narrative sometimes falls short in its depiction of how Amber Patterson actually goes about achieving her dream. Or does it?
As Amber meets wealthy Daphne Parrish at a Bishops Harbor gym, the author cleverly ensnares us
with her powerful tale in which “white trash” Amber is hypnotized by alluring Jackson Parrish, Daphne’s debonair billionaire husband.
their pasts--Amber tells Daphne that her sister also died from cystic fibrosis--Amber sees in Daphne a new “little sister” and her ticket to fortune. Amber
is tired of being invisible, sick to death of routine: day after day working her ass off at a local real estate office, a job that barely pays the rent. Amber aches to be the envy of every woman she passed. For the hundredth time, she thinks how grateful she is to have escaped her dreary
Midwestern existence with her parents’ mundane conversations and all “the mind-numbing predictability of it all.”
Amber’s been waiting for the moment to make her move. Lately she’s been ramping it up, reading about art history so she can engage in responsible and intelligent conversation, working
on creating “a new and improved Amber”--one who would move at ease among the very wealthy. So far, her plan is right on schedule. She’s even been promoting her plain, even mousy, appearance, “someone who would never in a million years be a threat to anyone, especially not someone like Daphne Parris.” Amber suffers blind envy when she arrives for lunch at Daphne’s graceful Nantucket-style house on Long Island Sound. Here Daphne spends most of her lonely days with her two adorable children, Bella and Tallulah, while Jackson is away, preoccupied running his global financial business. As Amber carefully manipulates her way into Daphne’s life, she determines not to let local “society snob” Meredith “screw her,” particularly after Amber talks Daphne into letting her take on a management role in Julie Smile, the foundation founded by Daphne and dedicated to raising money for cystic fibrosis.
By the third committee meeting, Amber is ready to execute the final stage of her operation.
Though she worries about Daphne discovering her past, she readies herself to meet Jackson, whom she knows will positively brim with “power and masculinity.” Yes, selfish Amber is a player, but Constantine drops few hints about it. It’s not until we get deeper into the second half of the novel, where events unfold from Daphne’s perspective, that we get a real sense of how Amber has misjudged her own importance with regard to love, relationships, and sex.
Although Amber may think she’s finally the master of her world and of her fate, in truth
she is an empty shell who plays her personality traits like a recording. Of course she’s going to be attracted to Jackson with his “thick black hair, full lips and cobalt-blue eyes.”
Of course she will do anything within her power to sabotage his marriage to Daphne. Although some readers may be put off by the brutal sex scenes, most will probably want to keep reading in order to follow devious Amber’s serpentine path of deception, even in the face of a predictable ending.
Jackson is pretty much unknowable until the final stages of Daphne’s narrative,
when she reluctantly tells us some hard, bitter truths about her husband’s proclivities. Constantine’s easy prose style reflects this sense of distance, of the need to not reveal too much from either Amber or Daphne’s point of view. From an innocent little girl to a New York sophisticate, Daphne is determined to keep up her facile charade for Amber’s sake.
For her part, Amber is determined to never let anything or anyone stand in her way. The reader certainly admires Amber’s cleverness and her foresight, even
though so much of what follows is over-the-top, disjointed, and predictable.
Although the book is riddled with clichés, Constantine offers valuable insight into the superrich, their vast amounts of money
buying expensive fine art, designer suits, and Dior dresses and shoes. As Amber ascends into Jackson’s privileged orbit, she becomes a person who has it all--personality, purpose, style, and grace--but her glamorous, fortunate life will come at a price. Nothing in the novel is remotely realistic, yet Constantine to her credit, keeps us turning those pages as we strangely applaud both Amber and Daphne.