Synopsis: It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time.
Emily doesn’t come back, doesn’t answer calls, or return texts. Stephanie knows something is wrong—Emily would never leave Nicky. Terrified, she reaches out to her blog readers for help. She also reaches out to Emily’s husband, the handsome, reticent Sean, offering emotional support. Then, she and Sean receive shocking news. Emily is dead. Soon, Stephanie will begin to see that nothing is as simple as it seems. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Themes Explored: death, deception, friendship, family, relationships, motherhood, blogging, mother-child interactions, fashion, sexual relations, grief, genetic sexuality attraction, childhood, widowhood, reputation, restlessness
Review: Full disclosure, I read this book based solely upon the movie trailer. I wanted to know the ending before the movie debuted. Ever wonder what you neighbors get up to all day? According to this book, if your neighbor is a woman, they are probably blogging about motherhood or contemplating murder. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
In this debut novel, an insecure woman with a dark past become friends with the narcissistic, glamorous couple next doors and finds her life irrevocably altered. Darcey Bell, the author, spends her days teaching school. Given the rather unflattering portrait of motherhood Bell depicts in this novel, you really wonder which parents she used as an inspiration for her characters.
A Simple Favor jumps between three different characters’ point of view: Stephanie, Emily, and Sean.
Stephanie, a recent widow, spends her day’s blogging about “mommy” issues and raising her young son Miles. She tends to overshare all manner of anxieties on her blog. Her husband and half-brother died in a tragic auto crash a year earlier. Feeling lonely and in need of adult friendship, Stephanie forms a play-date friendship with fellow Connecticut mom Emily, a busy publicist for a top Manhattan fashion designer. Emily’s son Nicky is best friends with Stephanie’s son Miles. While stunning, Emily’s beauty covers a dark edge that manifests as an unusual fondness for serial-killer movies and Patricia Highsmith novels. The two women share a common dysfunctional past: estrangement from Midwestern parents. During the first half of the novel, the narrative mainly focuses on Stephanie’s’ point of view. Once Emily disappears, the POV shifts between her, and her British Wall Street trader husband, Sean.
Emily is deeply wicked, bordering on psychopathic, while Stephanie is highly naïve but desperately wishes to appear edgy. Sean comes across as weak willed and deeply afraid of his wife. As the plot advances, Emily becomes a fascinating character whose sole goal in life is to illegally cash in on a multi-million dollar insurance policy and live the rest of her life in exotic locations with her son and husband. In the middle of carrying out this scheme, a body is located in a lake in Maine, which may or may not be Emily.
Once Emily disappears, Stephanie jumps into “mom” mode (called “Captain Mom” in the book) and begins mothering Nicky while starting a sexual relationship with Sean. Stephanie is her own worse enemy, and even worse, extremely boring. The only person who ever loved Stephanie was her half-brother Chris, they led an extremely un-sibling like relationship. Over the course of the novel, while all these terrible events keep occurring, Stephanie maintains a constant stream of hyper-happy content on her dreadfully sugary blog aimed at moms.
While the novel contains some interesting aspects, the narrative feels too familiar to other recent novels. Gone Girl contained a similar premise and better pacing. A Simple Favor falters due to the lack of a sympathetic character. Sean, Emily, and Stephanie have no likable characteristics. Reading about a bunch of narcissistic and self-centered people ruin each other’s lives is a rather belabored task. If you have ever read a book dealing with insurance fraud, the “twist” is not shocking or unexpected. Too many other authors have already told this story for A Simple Favor to stand out from the crowd. Overall, Darcey Bell possesses some storytelling talent. I hope that she keeps writing and her skills at constructing a compelling mystery will improve. I think the story lends itself better to a movie than a full-length book, mainly because a visual telling will cut out many of the self-reflective passages that drag down the pacing.
A Simple Favor, Harper, 2017, ISBN: 9780062497772
Movie Debut: September 14, 2018 (USA)