The Trout Island Theatre Company, in upstate New York, has enticed Marcus Wayland to uproot his entire family – wife Lara, twins Olly and Bella, and three-year-old Jack – from their humdrum English life to a summer’s sojourn in America. Julia Crouch’s second novel, Every Vow You Break, is the story of Lara’s exploration of her sense of self as she follows Marcus on what seems to be a promising adventure, but to her seems to be a retreat from reality.
For Lara, reality is the fact that Marcus has been out of work as an actor for years, and that a job she does not enjoy is the sole way the family can survive. For Lara, reality is the fact that her teenaged twins seem to be growing apart from her and from each other, and that Jack has taken what little she has left. For Lara, reality is the fact that she feels abandoned by Marcus and spends her days in a daze wondering what might have happened “if only”. What we gradually realise is that Marcus has some kind of control over Lara, that maybe he does not even realise, and that Lara is hiding something from herself so deeply that she does not realise it herself.
When the family settle into an empty old house on the outskirts of town, they feel an unidentifiable menace from the building itself. Then there is the question of the foul-smelling stain in the centre of the hall. What is the history of this house and why does it constantly make Lara and the twins feel they are being watched by a malevolent presence? Combined with the heat and oppressive humidity of a New York State summer in full blast, the family is near to breaking point even without any added tension.
But tension does arrive in the form of Lara and Marcus’ old friend Stephen – a successful actor and everything that Marcus wishes he could be. Stephen and Lara seem to have a shared history of their own and this too, blinds Lara to what else is going on in town and in her own house. For Olly and Bella are suffering too, as Bella, too, is trying to exercise her own independence from Olly. Is this just a case of teenagers growing up, or is there something more sinister here as well? It seems that nothing in Trout Island is truly what it appears.
The novel is chilling and incredibly evocative. A thriller, but in a subtle way, the tension is built up as slowly as a summer storm builds, and then once the novel reaches its climax it is a roller-coaster ride that will take your breath away. And for all that, you will come away from it watching over your shoulder no matter where you are, just in case someone is there.
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