This book is brutal. After the first few chapters, I'll admit I wasn't sure I wanted to continue. Here's the premise: a thirty-two-year-old realtor named Annie is abducted by a stranger, kept in a remote cabin in the woods for a year, during which she is raped, beaten, and emotionally manipulated. The novel is written in first person as a series of one-sided conversations with a therapist. So the good news is, we know Annie must eventually get away from her kidnapper and survive the ordeal, since she lived to tell the therapist about it. However, Stevens is so unflinchingly descriptive, even that comfort feels shallow at times.
It's not that I have anything against books that deal with tough topics. I've read other abduction narratives and found them absorbing. Room by Emma Donoghue is one such example of a nuanced, fabulously well-done kidnapping story. I think the difference is the amount and selection of detail by the author. In Room, the action is narrated by the five-year-old son of the victim, born in captivity as a product of rape. Because the narrator is a child, the more brutal aspects are softened by his innocence and lack of understanding. In other books, authors choose not to fully describe the more horrific sequences, instead making allusions or describing what was going on in the victim's mind as the act was taking place. Stevens instead chooses to write the scenes as if describing a tea party; the innocuous details are presented in the same detached tone as the sinister.
Ultimately, though, Stevens does create something other than a straightforward account of a terrible ordeal. Even though Annie has escaped her tormentor, she still has a lot of recovering to do. And it turns out, the paranoia she feels may not be totally unfounded. Is she really safe now? Can she ever be? The plot takes some exciting turns in the second half and saves the book from being too formulaic.
Bottom line: Read this book, but only if you can handle it (and maybe read Room instead).