The Woman in the Window
By A.J. Finn
Morrow. 448 pp. $26.99
Reviewed by Patrick Anderson
Even before this novel's publication, movie rights were sold, as well as foreign rights in several countries. It's a beautifully written, brilliantly plotted, richly enjoyable tale of love, loss, and madness.
Anna Fox, 38, lives alone in a costly house in Manhattan. We soon learn why she is so often peering out her window. She is agoraphobic and has not left home in nearly a year, but she delights in spying on her neighbors. She drinks a great deal of wine and watches black-and-white movie classics - Gaslight, Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, and Spellbound are among her favorites.
Anna's husband has left her and taken their 8-year-old daughter with him. She talks to them by phone and vainly begs him to return. She's a child psychologist and still advises a few patients by email, but mostly she is alone with her wine, her movies, and her cat. She also has a tenant, a handsome carpenter who lives in her basement. His presence injects a bit of "will they or won't they?" excitement into the story, but mostly she is content to spy on her neighbors.
Then, Ethan Russell, a boy of 16 who lives across the street, arrives bearing a gift from his mother. Anna meets Ethan's parents, Paul and Jane, and Finn's plot kicks in. The Russells are a troubled family. Ethan hints that his father is violent toward wife and son. Anna uses her binoculars to learn more, and one day sees what she believes is an act of violence. She calls the police, who investigate and find no problem. They think Anna's wine consumption - two or three bottles a day - along with the many prescription drugs she consumes, have impaired her judgment. She continues to spy on the Russells, and dark deeds soon unfold.
No spoilers here, but it's fair to say Finn's characters are rarely who or what they first appear to be. And that his story ends with a series of mind-boggling surprises. It's first-rate entertainment that is ultimately a moving portrait of a woman fighting to preserve her sanity.
I wanted to know more about A.J. Finn. It turns out it's a pseudonym of Daniel Mallory, an executive editor with the novel's publisher, William Morrow. In an autobiographical statement, Mallory writes that he has for years struggled with depression. With The Woman in the Window, he has not only captured, sympathetically, the interior life of a depressed person, but also written a riveting thriller that will keep you guessing to the last sentence.
Patrick Anderson writes regularly about thrillers and mysteries for the Washington Post, where this review originally appeared.