Behind Closed Doors. B. A. Paris

Paris, B.A. Behind Closed Doors. HarperCollins London, 2016. F;6/17.

This one is either light summer reading or a penetrating look at psychopathy, depending on how seriously you take the idea that there are a lot of brilliant horrifying bastards (nearly all men) bent on visiting big-time nastiness on helpless victims (nearly all women), lurking everywhere. It’s almost a spoiler even to say that, but come on: the title lets us in the door for at least weird sex but maybe also a good dose of serious dirt being done, and done in secret.

The author baits her hook on page one with a rich pretty-close-to-flawless professional couple entertaining more of the same who all envy the hosts’ relationship, good looks, money, good taste, and the rest of the sort of thing your rubbernecking looky-loos buy magazines like People and watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians for.  But there are early hints that there is indeed something not quite perfect Behind those Closed Doors.

Grace, the wife, has a Down syndrome sister Millie who figured in Grace’s public-park meeting of her husband Jack about a year ago. Millie is ideally cared for in an (expensive) private school with a full-time caregiver, but will be moving into the couple’s magnificent home shortly.

(REAL spoiler alert) Jack of course is an uber-textbook psychopath who marries Grace with the idea of imprisoning innocent childlike Millie in a terrifying red basement room and delighting in her suffering. Any fun one has reading this story involves the mind games between Grace and Jack as she attempts to escape his clutches and prevent Millie’s real-life nightmare. But OMG clever Jack is always one jump ahead. It’s intriguing (but you’d have to have more histrionic and credulous imagination even than me to call it terrifying) to see poor Grace stuck: she desperately needs to, but can’t, get anybody to believe her as Jack steamrollers all roads with the idea that Grace is a schizophrenic full of outrageous delusions. (End spoiler alert)

And then of course in the end we find out who finally outsmarts who and wins. Fun, hm?

You could try to inject some significance into the experience if you thought that the plot was designed to show us (using an exaggerated version) that control of other people goes on everywhere and all the time and mostly goes unrecognized because it seems to be part of human traffic, or really is a part of human traffic. I think it was Mary Gaitskill who said that every relationship involves power in some way, and to me that’s interesting: if it were true it wouldn’t mean that power in a relationship always operates in one direction only, or that it isn’t at least partly benign. Protective, say. But trying to burrow deep into the significance of Behind Closed Doors I didn’t come up with a whole lot of evidence that Ms Paris (she’s female) intended such ideas, even unconsciously.

Overall I was fine going along on this thriller ride, and to take a rest from all the big heavy intellectual stuff that we all prefer…….. 7.3/7.5

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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