Harlan Coben’s “The Stranger,” A Book Review

No spoilers ahead.

The quality that has always attracted me to Coben’s stories is how ordinary they are. That is a compliment. In other words, I like stories where normal seeming people are thrust in extraordinary, beyond-the-pale circumstances. In this particular case, Adam, a father of two with a beautiful, committed wife, is thrown for a loop when a “stranger” tells him she faked a pregnancy. Everything spirals from there.

Secrets; we all keep them for our own reasons and rationales; some are more damning than others and more dangerous, but that’s what the book is about, among other things. And naturally, since the book is about unraveling the secrets of the characters, I couldn’t put it down, literally. For the first time in a long time, I read a book in one sitting.

Coben said in an interview with Huffington Post, “It helps if he’s the kind of guy who lives down the street, and is less classically heroic. I try to keep the reader up all night, wanting to know what’s going to happen.” Well, that aim worked. I just love that type of premise. Not only because I can relate to the people, but I just love the dynamic of the proverbial shit hitting the fan for someone.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the writing or the characterization beyond the Adam character, and the ending was too neatly wrapped up in my view, but it was still engrossing enough to keep me going. Moreover, I found the various permeated musings on American culture and parenting dynamics to be pretty interesting in its own right. Mostly, the parts about how wild and obsessive parents can be in living through their children’s sporting lives.

But since it’s about ordinary people, one of the most predominate themes, which also runs through in his other novels, I believe, is the classic, “What would you do for your family?” Or rather, perhaps, “What won’t you do for your family?” And this novel certainly wants to test that particular question.

I would recommend it to any Coben fan for sure and I would recommend it to anyone that just digs a what-the-hell-is-going-on story. It kept me up until 3:00 AM trying to find that out and while it didn’t totally satiate me, it did its job of being engrossing and allowing me a nice form of escapism for the time being.

Photo by Jean Francois Baunard
Photo by Jean Francois Baunard

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