Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted's rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted's longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue. To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it's clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity. With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.
Grace Chapman has been married 20 years now to Ted, a once wildly popular crime novelist whose career now seems to be on the wane. Conversely, Grace's career as a chef has been on quite the climb locally. An impressive feat, managing to building a career for herself while also serving as her husband's career manager since Ellen, Ted's assistant of 15 years had to leave the position to become the caretaker for her mother battling Alzheimer's. Along with stepping into the roll of Ted's manager comes the added stress of how to get his popularity back on the rise.
Starting to feel the pressure just a little too much, Grace reluctantly decides to interview for an assistant to her husband. In walks Beth, whose credentials and work ethic seem too good to be true... and you know how that saying goes. Eager to get some relief and extra help around the Chapman homestead, Grace doesn't hesitate much in hiring Beth. All seems wonderful and glowy at first. Grace even finds herself starting to consider Beth a friend. But then there's that quiet shift, where things begin to turn odd.
The change is almost imperceptible at first, but grows in steady intensity along with Grace's suspicions, as the story progresses. Things go missing or get damaged. Little changes in Beth's demeanor start to show. Though she arrived as a shy and mousy type, she begins to grow more bold in speech and dress. Beth even begins to mimic Grace's fashion, right down to Grace's hairstyle... Grace finds it all flattering at first, but once her clothes start to go missing, she starts to get the first inklings of something problematic. Little by little, behind the scenes, Beth carries out little details and schemes that leave Grace questioning her own sanity... to the point where Beth actually convinces Ted to have Grace committed. From there, the story becomes Grace fighting her way back out of this hell to prove to everyone she's not insane and she means to have her life back!
One thing this novel does well is convey the adult fears of someone who had been raised by a bipolar / manic depressive parent. Having been through it myself, I can attest that that fear of "will I be like them when I grow up?" does follow you and plague you all through your adult years, having noticeable affect on your relationships down the road. Grace's therapist, at least his form of care, I found deeply disturbing yet not uncommon in the mental health field these days, I suspect. The whole idea of "This is what you have, take this pill, don't research it just take my word for it that you need it."
The mountain of pills Grace gets buried under! The therapist starts her on Depakote, later moves her to Nuvigil, then adds on Metformin. At this point, the meds are causing her to have insatiable food cravings for carbs / junk food. After developing BED (binge eating disorder), Grace's therapist suggests incorporating Topamax, Lexapro, maybe even Provigil into her pill cycle. No surprise that despite anything she thought she was sure of about herself, Grace begins to question if, in fact, everyone was onto something and she is possibly losing her mind.
Grace, unfamiliar with doctors at every level, finds herself regressing back to a child, where doctors were akin to God, where when they told you they knew better than you, you believed them. Who is she, wife, mother, friend, who is she to tell the psychiatrist he might be wrong? He does, after all, do this for a living. If he says this is so, then what else can she do but let it be so....
She examines the bottle, turning it over and over, preparing herself to set foot on a journey she does not want to start...
But think, she tells herself, of what you having been feeling of late. Think of the anger, the tears, the way you sometimes feel as if your head will explode with all the chaos it contains. What if he is right, and my resistance, my lack of willingness to believe in the diagnosis, is part of the disease? What if these pills do indeed turn out to be magic, and I am restored back to my old self? Then it would be worth it. She doesn't have to stay on them for long. Right now she doesn't have much fight left in her. The easiest thing to do is to take them to make everyone happy. And if they don't work, she'll simply stop.
Speaking of her binge eating.... while I sympathize with Grace's struggle during the ridiculous flood of medications, one of the struggles I HAD with this book is having to listen to the amount of moaning she did about her clothing size going up just a few sizes. At the start of the novel, I think she's somewhere around a 4-6 size, a number of passages describing how much Grace loves her tiny body in all these fashionable designer threads. Over the course of the novel, as there is more and more binge eating, naturally her size creeps up, and she has a good cry at each number increase. While I understood the frustration of this to a point, what bugged me is that by the end of the story, it sounds like Grace only climbs to maybe a 12-14 size --- I'm guessing because I don't remember actual sizes being mentioned, I'm only going by how Grace describes her body and the fact that I don't recall her ever crying over having to break down and go shopping for plus sized clothes. Seems like she always had an easy enough time finding clothes off the rack, even with the weight gain.
Yes, going from a 4 to a 12 is a noticeable change in the body -- again, a path I've been on myself --- but good lord, the sheer amount of crying and self hate she unleashes, she acts like she's going to be cast for My 600 Lb Life any day now! Even when an old friend from her past comes back into her life full of compliments and affirmations, telling her he finds her more full figure gorgeous, she initially casts his love away like "he clearly must have some weird fat fetish". I felt for the guy, the amount of convincing he had to do that he was not some kind of feeder type! Meanwhile, as the reader, I'm over here internally screaming, "You're not event that big! WTF!" Horror of horrors, your tops temporarily had to go from a small to a large... I swear, first world problems LOL. And it's not just that, there are also pity parties she throws herself over having to use drugstore makeup instead of her beloved Chanel. *eyeroll* Welcome to the peasantry, Grace. Let me show you around my hometown. I wanted to be invested in Grace's mental health journey but her all around personality ended up ruining things for me a bit.
Considering the premise, I expected this story to be much more gripping than what it actually turned out to be. I went in expecting a kind of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle feel. In actuality? Such a slooooow build followed by an (IMO) unsatisfying finish. It takes nearly 160 pages before any real hint of mystery or suspense kicks in ... and then that ending. The way Jane Green sets it up, I could kind of see it working in a film format, but here it felt too rushed. The dramatic "takedown" that's planned for dirty schemer Beth ends up feeling anticlimactic and, ummm --- did I miss it? --- It seemed like there was no follow up whatsoever on what happened with Ted? We hear about where Grace ends up after all this, but where'd Ted go?!
The recipes were a nice touch, kind of a fun side project for creative readers. There are Grace-inspired recipes at the end of nearly every chapter, either something she crafted in that particular chapter, or a dish that was mentioned or made for her.