In Nightmares And Dreamscapes, Stephen King asserts that there have only been two great horror novels written in the 20th century, The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House. (Of course, he modestly ignores the fact that at least four of his own novels should make the list, but that’s another story.) The point here is that both those novels feature a central character whose powers of observation, in fact, her very sanity, can be questioned.
In The Woman in the Window, A. J. Finn takes that powerful plot device and compounds it, maybe multiplies it by one hundred. Because in this case, the narrator, Dr. Anna Fox, who is the victim of agoraphobia brought on by a posttraumatic stress disorder, is an experienced child psychologist who is continually analyzing her own behavior and the behavior of others. In several instances, she first believes one side of the central question in all these books, and then the other. Are there evil outside forces at work around her, or is she just plain nuts?
Finn constructs his story beautifully. He slowly reveals the events that brought about Anna’s condition, and then he presents the added happenings that are so threatening to her. And those events aren’t just observed; sometimes they come crashing against Anna’s secure little world likes someone battering against a door, or eggs thrown at her porch by a gang of nasty kids, or an all too blunt statement by an antagonistic police officer.
This is masterful writing; this is a story well told. Sure, Finn wraps up the ending as though he were Charles Dickens. He ties up loose ends that don’t need to be tied, resolves conflicts that don’t need to be resolved, making things almost too damn neat and tidy. But the CLIMAX of this novel is right out of Stephen King, and it is so damn powerful. I love seeing the master’s hand reflected in the works of a new generation of writers, it’s brilliant, and it’s cinematic.
There is at least one question that needs to be asked about the plotline (perfect as it is) that can’t be asked here without giving the whole damn story away. But it’s good to point out that this woman in the window is a person of the 21st century. She makes full use of the technology around her. The computer is one of the windows at which she sits, and she’s a pro. She has all of modern chemotherapy at her disposal to use and abuse. She’s a brilliant Psychologist who is in counseling and had a partner in the business who was also a great tutor. She has cell phones and a psychology chat group and all the devices of the trade, even umbrellas. She watches old films noir, and (another brilliant plot device) they often provide sound effects even commentary on the events going on around here. So does all this technology and her own psychological skills save Dr. Anna Fox or damn her? That’s not the central question of this book for me. But it is the key to the story.