THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW
Imagine binge-watching a series of Hitchcock noir films, all night long, while drinking far too much merlot. Might this create an unreliable viewer? The equally unreliable narrator of A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window does just that, binge-watches Hitchcock films while drinking far too much merlot. For days on end, mesmerized by Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, only interacting with computer chat rooms and occasionally pausing to spy on her neighbors, Anna Fox fantasizes an unreliable world while personally descending (ascending?) into clouds of untethered reality.
Reading her story necessarily creates an unreliable reader, too, for we never know which narrative voices we ought to be trusting. A. J. Finn masterfully taunts our perceptions, leading us down false trails, turning fact into fiction into fact, and constantly misdirecting our logic. The Woman in the Window generates a new mystery with each passing day, as Anna struggles to make sense of what her eyes and her imagination are telling her. At the same time, the reader is struggling, too, trying to bring clarity to the narrative haze.
Anna suffers from agoraphobia. Unable to leave her house, she wallows in loneliness. Occasionally another person breaks into her solitude, but even then the reader can’t be certain if the intruder is real or simply imagined. Because the entire novel takes place in Anna’s alcoholic fog, I fear I’m making The Woman in the Window sound like a book easily discarded when the opposite is true. The Woman in the Window is a book that a reader can hardly put down, a book worthy of binge-reading (preferably without numerous bottles of merlot) in a single sitting, more than four hundred pages of gut-wrenching trauma. (Please notice that I’m not revealing any details of Anna’s voyeurism and her vicarious existences. That’s because the particulars constantly swirl in a maelstrom of undependable eddies.)
Even as the novel grabs the reader’s white-knuckled imagination, it also raises intriguing psychological questions about the nature of reality. I read a pre-publication version of Finn’s book, and its cover differs from the final published version. A dust jacket overlay quotes from a chapter in the middle of Anna’s angst, “It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .” That’s what she keeps telling herself, “it isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening.” But is the plot of The Woman in the Window really happening? The reader simply doesn’t know for sure. I found my interpretations fluctuating from page to page. Sometimes I trusted Anna’s sanity, but more often I found myself swimming in full-blown paranoia. Or was I simply flailing? Whatever, I was fascinated!
I understand why The Woman in the Window has sky-rocketed on best-seller lists and why bookstores prominently display multiple copies. Finn’s novel grabs the imagination and just won’t let go. Anyone whose heart beats faster with a rerun of “Vertigo” or “Rear Window” will be intrigued by Finn’s brilliant portrayal of a woman on the edge. – Ann Ronald
The Woman in the Window is A. J. Finn’s debut novel. (A. J. Finn is book editor Daniel Mallory’s pseudonym.)