'The Last Mrs. Parrish' Nods to and Subverts the Classics with Aplomb
This debut novel by sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine fits well within the mold of Gone Girl-esque thriller.
It's hard to describe anything about The Last Mrs. Parrish without veering into spoiler territory. If I look for literary and filmic antecedents, I'd have to say that The Last Mrs. Parrish is a wicked combination of All About Eve, Rebecca, and Gone Girl, with a bit of Gaslight thrown in there for good measure. But perhaps that also gives too much away. In any case, The Last Mrs. Parrish fits well within the mold of Gone Girl-esque thrillers: it has the requisite unsympathetic female protagonist, features endless double-crossing and conniving and plotting, and is threaded throughout with cutting commentary on the roles and expectations of marriage.
While The Last Mrs. Parrish is not as fresh and daring as Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which really was utterly shocking, ruthless, and iconic enough to have basically started its own subgenre, it's far better than Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train: author Liv Constantine is much more aware of her novel's precedents and influences, and expects the reader to have enough knowledge of Rebecca and All About Eve, et al, that she can subvert the anticipated tropes and plot threads with ease and aplomb.
A bit of Googling reveals that Liv Constantine is the pseudonym of co-author sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine; in hindsight, knowing that The Last Mrs. Parrish is the work of two voices explains the somewhat disjointed structure of the novel. Divided into thirds, the first section is written in the third person from the point of view of Amber Patterson, a conniving, remorseless young woman who has dedicated all of her efforts into marrying the wealthy businessman Jackson Parrish. Every step of her plan is rather meticulously wrought, from her so-called chance meeting with Jackson's perfect wife Daphne at the gym, where she concocts a story about having a sister with cystic fibrosis to establish a connection with Daphne, who runs a foundation in honor of her sister, who died of CF.
From there, it's a hop, skip, and a jump to ingratiate herself into the Parrish family and become Daphne's best friend and confidante: Amber becoming "Aunt Amber" to Daphne and Jackson's children, accompanying the obscenely wealthy family on vacations and naturally, weaseling herself into a position as Jackson's indispensable office assistant, where she can seduce him that much more easily. Which she does, Jackson's and Daphne's ideal marriage be damned.
The second section of the novel abruptly moves to the first person, where Daphne explains her side of the story (obviously the Parrish marriage is hardly what it seems to be) while the final part returns to the third person to wrap up the narrative. At first blush it might seem self-indulgent to switch narrators in this way in order to elaborate parts of the story that we couldn't get otherwise, but we don't really need a first-person confession from Amber, as her every move reflects her heartless thought process and actively works towards her goal of stealing Jackson from Daphne.
On the other hand, as the genre dictates, Daphne is more complicated than Amber (and initially the reader) would believe, with her motives and desires much more difficult to parse through her actions alone. Even as the story approaches its climax, I found myself wishing that Amber had been as layered and developed as Daphne, because while it's always satisfying to see the Eve Harringtons of the world get some form of comeuppance, Amber is almost cartoonishly evil. A sketchily-traced out backstory explains the bare minimum of why Amber would want to marry into obscene amounts of money, but she's so utterly without conscience or self-criticism that at the end of The Last Mrs. Parrish, she merely becomes a single-minded foil to Daphne rather than an actual person with interiority. Even Jackson, whose innermost workings we are not privy to, comes across as more thoughtfully-conceived than Amber—although that may be because his character type is more recognizable, both in fiction and in the real world, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps between his words and deeds.
The prose is effective and breezy if not stunning or earth-shattering; the story, as the cliché goes, kept me on the edge of my seat, resulting in a long sigh of catharsis as I closed the Kindle app. Ultimately, as a debut, The Last Mrs. Parrish is quite strong and makes a case for itself—the degree to which it flashes its willingness to play with the classics of the genre elevates it beyond the level of a Gone Girl-imitator. I await the inevitable Hollywood adaptation with excitement.