Reality is a sliding door…Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sliding Doors is easily one of the most underrated movies of all time. Gwyneth Paltrow made the film during her long and excruciating breakup from Brad Pitt (cue teenagers like, “they dated??”) and it shows in every glimmer of tears in her eyes, every set of her chin, every time hope alights on her face. It’s a movie about breakups and makeups, about the choices we make, about how doors take us in different directions, about the two roads diverging in the wood.
It never, ever fails to make me cry at the end.
Suffice to say, I loved the idea of a psychological thriller along the same lines as the movie. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow’s picture-perfect Helen, Lila Bennett is a complicated soul. A criminal defense attorney, Lila lives for the chase, the hunt, the win. It’s ceased to matter to her whether or not her clients are guilty or innocent – it only matters that she secures her victory, so she can move on to the next. She’s married, but she’s cheating. She’s betraying almost everyone close to her, and she may have just helped a vicious killer escape prosecution.
Is Lila the devil incarnate? I would argue no. Although a lot of her decisions paint her out to be a stereotypical ‘bad person’, in reality I think that Lila is at the mercy of the undertow of her life. Driven to succeed, she’s swept along by what people expect from her. After all, who would prop up her depressed husband if she crumbled? Who would support her mother if she left her job?
One evening, Lila makes a crucial choice (that seems quite small in the moment), and her life splits in two. One in which she’s “free”, still struggling to navigate the complex legal system and atone for past wrongs, and one in which she’s “captured”, kept in a cement-lined cell with a viciously cold man who seems to want revenge, at any cost.
Immensely readable and compelling, this book also has a very good twist when it comes to “whodunit”. I guessed, because I make it my business to guess, but it wasn’t obvious, and I commend the authors – super hard these days to make that a surprise.
One caveat: there’s a fair amount of slut-shaming that goes on in this book, which made me cringe. Lila frequently thinks “I deserve this”, as she’s being mentally and physically tortured in her cell. Worse, I didn’t get the feeling that at any point, that self-loathing changes into an attitude of “no one deserves this”, which I would have seen as welcome character growth.
Because certainly, I don’t believe even the most cold-hearted reader would think Lila “deserves” to be locked up, slashed and starved, because she had an extra-marital affair and made some questionable choices at work? Surely not? SOMEONE PLEASE. Because, ugh. It’s 2019 and we don’t ascribe to the notion that women need to be “punished” for their transgressions, right? Right.
Mental gymnastics aside, I really enjoyed this. It’s the perfect summer beach read, and will have you madly flipping pages (or pressing next on your Kindle) until you get to the whirlwind of an ending.