Title: You were made for this
Author: Michelle Sacks
Reviewer: Beryl Eichenberger
Imagine leaving the hustle and bustle of a teeming New York to settle in the bucolic countryside some 45 minutes from Stockholm , Sweden. A dream come true or a nightmare waiting to begin?
Dark fiction seems to emanate from the Scandinavian countries and while Sacks is South African born (now living in Sweden) she has embraced this genre to bring a novel that is compelling, chilling, disturbing and tragic. Combining family histories, friendship, control and post- partum depression this tale is one that will stay with you.
For Merry and her husband Sam the move is a new start. A family who has everything; the minimalist beautifully decorated and restored farmhouse in the woods, a doting wife who bakes, cleans, grows her own vegetables and herbs; a devoted husband who is pursuing his new career of film making and baby Conor makes three. The picture of domestic bliss where the home runs smoothly, the husband comes home to a loving wife and a cooked meal every night and the baby is contented and loved. Well, as they say if it looks too good to be true it probably is!
Sacks skill is in scratching beneath the perfect surfaces and uncovering layer by layer the imperfections of the character’s lives and their ways of resolving their challenges. As the layers peel back they reveal chilling and disturbing stuff. The beauty of the book is that you are drawn in from page one and while you may not like the characters their lives resonate and their transgressions are not uncommon.
From the moment you start reading you sense the discomfort that Merry has with the baby – referred to as ‘the baby’ throughout her chapters – bonding here is an issue but never to be spoken about and presenting the loving mother is the role. When Merry’s best friend Frank comes to stay the secrets behind the closed doors start revealing themselves. Frank’s closeness to the family becomes even closer. She bonds with Conor, Sam enjoys her company more than is seemly and even the neighbours are caught-up in Frank’s friendliness and good nature.
Here is Merry – coming from a very privileged but emotionless, dysfunctional, family; deeply scarred by parental indiscretions, arrogance and neglect, very much dependent on her friendship with Frank – when it suits. Merry is the past master of re-invention, becoming the woman the current partner needs and so she has adapted to life with Sam and the ‘perfection’ he requires. To the extent of having a baby.
Husband Sam is an academic whose fall from grace is apparent as the story unfolds. As a serial philanderer he is more concerned with control of his and Merry’s life and his ability to meet his own desires when and if he wants. A new life in Sweden; a new career – a family set - up with an adored baby and a new mistress and his life is complete.
Frank is more like a sister, having grown up with Merry when the girls spent more time together at Frank’s home with her nurturing mother so unlike Merry’s conceited, arrogant and selfish mother. Conversely Frank is more attuned to Merry’s mother and achieves a successful career unlike Merry’s fluttering from job to job. Frank is a woman who picks up and drops men at her whim, never quite achieving a lasting relationship. Below the surface the girls’ friendship is toxic and driven by jealousy and revenge.
Provocative and revealing the darker side of marriage, friendship and motherhood unfold under Sacks distinctive writing and here is a thriller that you won’t put down.