A fresh perspective: What happened to the baby?

Here’s another review by one of Paul O’Connor’s students in opinion writing at the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Reviewed by Lauren Tarpley

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. By Shari Lapena. Pamela Dorman Books (Viking). 320 pages. $26.

coupleA couple in New York attend a dinner party at their neighbor’s house, leaving their beloved infant daughter home, but taking the baby monitor with them and checking on her every half hour. Then they return home to find that the baby has vanished. Their motion detector has been tampered with, and the front door is unlatched. A typical kidnapping case … right? Wrong. What follows is not your standard story surrounding a missing child.

In her novel The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena examines the fear Anne and Marco Conti face as they try to piece together the night before in hopes of finding their daughter, Cora. As more evidence is uncovered, more about the couple next door comes to light, and what they find is unsettling.

Lapena does an excellent job of keeping the narrative moving by providing a seemingly endless array of action and plot twists. Just when you think you’re one step closer to figuring out who took Cora, Lapena throws in a new detail to stop you in your tracks.

From Anne’s wealthy parents to the beautiful and charming woman next door, the characters throughout the novel might appear clichéd at first. Yet, the characters that Lapena has created are just as dark and complex as the narrative itself. Whether because of mental illness or family secrets, nobody within the novel is to be trusted. However, since the novel is so fast-paced, there is little time for character development. The reader is still trying to unravel the characters up to the very last page. On the one hand, because the characters are so complex, I would have liked to get to know them earlier in the novel. But, on the other hand, perhaps this slow character development feeds the suspense of the novel. The reader doesn’t know whom to blame or trust — just as the characters in the novel don’t know.

Lapena excels when it comes to giving voices to her varied characters. Anne, a distressed mother with postpartum depression, never sounds crazy or objectified, which can be a difficult task when giving voice to someone with mental illness.

In what could have been your stereotypical suspense novel revolving around a kidnapping, Lapena does an excellent job of making sure her plot line is new and captivating. Through vivid detail and fast-paced action, Lapena is able to completely immerse the reader in the story.

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