Review of Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
Newlyweds Sam and Annie haven't known each other long. They realize their whole lives could be shattered as the lies they've been telling each other come to light.
Sam and Annie didn't know each other long before becoming engaged and getting married. Now they're newlyweds starting a life together in upstate New York. Sam is starting up a private practice in his sleepy hometown as a therapist, while Annie tries to find her own path and stay busy.
Sam's father left his mother for a younger woman years ago, which deeply fractured their father-son relationship. Sam says he abhors the man, but locals are constantly reminding Annie that Sam was a heartbreaker in his younger years. They frequently express their shock that he's settled down, intimating that he was expected to follow in his father's footsteps as a lifelong playboy--and that they believe he still may.
Meanwhile, Sam's mother is suffering from dementia. Sam and Annie alternate visiting days with her. Except...Annie finds out that Sam's been lying. He's said he was with his mother, but he hasn't been showing up. Now he's disappeared altogether and isn't picking up his calls. So where has he been, what is he up to, and what other lies have been shaping their lives? Will they ever be able to trust each other again? And where is Sam?
For the first third of the book, I strongly considered not finishing Goodnight Beautiful. The characters seemed shallow and unsympathetic; they were obsessed with money and seemed greedy; they were largely concerned with drinking and holding a regular happy hour for two; they often seemed silly, naive, and vapid; and they were lying to each other about their pasts. Several characters seemed unappealing and potentially too-obvious drivers of complications (the young, flirtatious French patient in the therapist's office who serves as a temptation; the bored, emotionally immature housewife desperate to keep her new husband happy; and the insecure middle-aged recently married man with a wandering eye).
But this book has a major twist. A third of the way through, it becomes clear that things aren't at all what they seem. (Because I was listening to the audiobook, I couldn't then flip through the first part of the book with the shifted situation in mind like I wanted to. Yet listening to the twist occur in the audiobook may have made the unreliable narrator aspect even more arresting than it would be on the page.)
After the story's twist becomes clear, the rest of the book is a waiting game; the reader stands by while the characters slowly creep toward the truth the reader already knows. The trick occurs early (also, one major aspect of the true situation directly echoes a fictional setup made famous by a well-known author that is directly referenced within the text), so there isn't much mystery left for the reader for the majority of the story.
Yet once the jig is up for the reader, Molloy offers a deeper sense of her characters, offering vulnerabilities and a sense of their real selves. I liked getting a peek at the protagonists' true selves.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
I first mentioned this book in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 2/9/21 Edition.
Molloy is also the author of The Perfect Mother, which has its own twist and unreliable narrator. Have you read either or both of these books? How did you think the structure of the twists compared? What did you think once you realized you'd been manipulated into believing faulty premises?