by Chelsea Cain

4.5 Star Review

A Descent Into Darkness That Left Me Heartsick

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Reviewed:   January 19, 2010

Genre:   Thriller / Suspense

Series:   N/A ~ (Non-Series / Stand-Alone)

Rating:   4.5  Stars

Length:   336 Pages

Formats:   Print, eBook

What I Thought...

The comparisons are there in almost every review: Heartsick to Silence of the Lambs. The insidiously manipulative evil of Gretchen versus the coldly charming psychopathy of Hannibal. The broken and damaged Archie to the idealistic and forthright Clarice. And while the bottom line remains that Heartsick is no Silence of the Lambs, it definitely holds its own in the genre and left me with a lot to think about.

I did have a few issues, though. I thought the plot surrounding the After School Strangler whodunit was very anemic and wan. I didn't find it all that tense, interesting, or threatening, and it wasn't given enough breath to add to the tragedy of the other two threads of plot. Not only that, but I thought the connections made at the end of that thread were a bit contrived and stood out enough to be jarringly cliched.

So why such a high rating, as I'm usually very critical of things like that in books? Not to put too fine a point on it, but frankly, the psychosexual tension between the icy death queen Gretchen and the emotionally, physically, and spiritually crippled Archie was written so well (scarily, horrifyingly, disturbingly well) that I just can't give this book less than 4.5 stars, and I think there were true flashes of authorial brilliance that I haven't seen in this genre since Silence of the Lambs. Kudos to Cain for the deft hand at character development with a brilliance for creating a tense, atmospheric pressure cooker of human destruction. This book is not for the faint of heart. I finished it in three days only because I had to keep putting it down. Archie...and to a lesser degree Susan...just made me...well...heartsick.

I love flawed characters. I do. I think they make the most fascinating decisions and always have the best plots in books. But to say that Archie is flawed would be roughly akin to saying the Grand Canyon is a bit of a crack in the earth. The deep and depraved addiction to Gretchen and to drugs...both for the pain he's still in and the guilt for that very depravity...were hauntingly real and disturbing. Sympathetic...but only to a point...because like all addicts, Archie goes a long time without seeming to hit rock bottom. And that's a horrifying, terrifying thought. It's also disturbing that he almost seems to like the journey down - definitely seems to almost need it.

I can't remember an aspect of any book I've read that disturbed me more than the brutal codependency of Gretchen and Archie.

Heartsick wasn't by any means an enjoyable read. Not in the way I mean it anyway. It was one part sheer brilliance, one part very, very good (Susan's flaws and damage were also extremely well done and her thread believable), and one part almost an afterthought (the After School Strangler thread), but as a whole I wouldn't call it "enjoyable." It's definitely something I'd consider a must read, though, if you favor the sort of deconstruction of depravity and descent into the darkness capable by the most extreme humanity that books like Silence of the Lambs provides. I loved it...with my mind. My heart, though...it's still recovering.

Happy Reading! ~ Tracy

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