“Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.
You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.
Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.”
My Thoughts: From the opening page of Behind Closed Doors, there is no doubt that there is something terribly wrong with Grace’s life. The first scene highlights a jitteriness underneath her studied nonchalance that indicates an extremely strong emotion she just barely keeps in check. It does not take long to discover the truth behind the facade, and what a terrible truth it is.
Most of the novel is an exploration of how Grace came to be in her current predicament. Her story is not an easy one to read. B. A. Paris does an excellent job detailing just how thoroughly she was duped and how truly despicable Jack is. His penchant for cruelty knows no bounds, and he is the type of character that makes you want to take a shower each time you finish reading for the day. Yet, for all of his sociopath tendencies, he is frighteningly sympathetic. His tactics for subduing Grace and keeping her submissive are crude, surprisingly so, but effective. As he continues to use the same forms of punishment, one realizes that with repetition comes a deterioration in that effectiveness. The truly odd part of all this is that you find yourself worried about this and about him, not in the same way Grace worries but rather in commiseration with him. There is a small part of you that wants him to succeed with his plans even though you are disgusted with yourself for feeling this way. With Jack, Ms. Paris reaches into the very depths of your soul and uses the very same fascination which draws you to look up scenes of horrible accidents with grisly awe to help you not just sympathize but empathize with him. Jack brings out the bully in all of us.
Your reaction to Grace will be just as convoluted. On the one hand, she is nothing but a victim at the mercy of her captor, and there is no one who will not be able to root for her to finally succeed in her efforts to escape her prison. On the other hand, you cannot help but feel that she walked right into the trap set by Jack with her eyes wide open, and that maybe, just maybe, she may deserve some of what befalls her. Of course, you feel horrible for thinking such thoughts, but the doubt remains. After all, at one point in time, Jack gives her an option and makes her choose her path. In spite of her past experiences, doubts, and professed priorities when it comes to her loved ones, she chooses him. Therein lies the conundrum. If Jack brings out your inner bully, Grace’s choices add fuel to the fire.
One can liken Behind Closed Doors to the proverbial train wreck that you do not want to watch happen but cannot tear your eyes away from the scene. Ms. Paris’ debut novel is that and so much more. In Jack, she created one of the true great dregs of society and like his predecessors, e.g. Amy Dunne and Patrick Bateman, there is something utterly seductive about his capacity for evil. As for Grace, there is no doubt she is a fighter, but in many ways one wants less of her and more of Jack. She can be whiny and a bit too obsessed with the mistakes in her past that lead her to her present situation. It is only when her back is truly against the wall where she finally becomes a much more interesting foil for her husband. The mastery with which Ms. Paris plays with your emotions is all the more astonishing for the fact that it is her first novel. Her writing is much more mature and confident than one usually sees with novice authors, and her story benefits from this. Behind Closed Doors is by no means an easy read given its subject and its characters, but it is a fascinating display of human psychology pitted against human instinct for survival.