Author: LS Stratton
My Rating: 4 Stars
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Mystery / Thriller
Format Read: Ebook
StoryGraph Summary: One fateful encounter upends the lives of two women in this tense domestic thriller, a modern spin on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train that flips the script on race and gender politics.
“I’m a big believer that women should help each other, Tasha,” she says. “Don’t you think?”
Tasha Jenkins has finally found the courage to leave her abusive husband. Taking her teenage son with her, Tasha checks into a hotel the night before their flight out of D.C. and out of Kordell Jenkins’s life forever. But escaping isn’t so easy, and Tasha soon finds herself driving back to her own personal hell. As she is leaving, a white woman pounds on her car window, begging to be let in. Behind the woman, an angry man is in pursuit. Tasha makes a split-second decision that will alter the course of her life: she lets her in and takes off.
Tasha and Madison Gingell may have very different everyday realities, but what they have in common is marriages they need out of. The two women want to help each other, but they have very different ideas of what that means . . .
They are on a collision course that will end in the case files of the D.C. MPD homicide unit. Unraveling the truth of what really happened may be impossible‒and futile. Because what has the truth ever done for women like Tasha and Madison?
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Not So Perfect Strangers is a dual-perspective, dual-timeline novel centered around two women who both feel they would be better off without their husbands in the picture. When they come together via a fateful interaction, the path that both of their lives— especially Tasha’s— takes changes dramatically. As is common with the dual-timeline narrative, we know from the start that there is a fire in a mansion home, and that Tasha is the one who calls 911 about it. The rest of the book leads us on the journey of finding out exactly what happened there.
Stratton did an excellent job of writing both of these characters to feel believable and real; I felt their pain while I was reading their sections, and given that they were often at odds, this made for a strange but delightful reading experience. When reading from Madison’s perspective, I felt that I understood where she was coming from. Yes, this woman was a bit unhinged, but that is the time honored Gone Girl tradition of psycho-thriller books today. Rich, successful white women are always a bit unhinged, especially when their husband is a cheating piece of shit. That’s what makes the story interesting. I have a habit of falling a little bit in love with these types of women.
Then, we have Tasha, a Black woman in an abusive relationship who is just trying to do what is right for her 17-year-old son. She’s an obviously likable character. Even when she behaves in a way that makes me scream with frustration— which she does frequently— the frustration is a result of the affection that I feel towards her. I want the best for Tasha, and despite this being dual-perspective, it’s obvious from the start that this is her story, not Madison’s. When you read from Tasha’s perspective, Madison in the villain, and that colors everything that we read from Madison’s perspective from that point onwards. These dueling perspectives are truly the most fascinating aspect of the book. It was a big swing, and Stratton pulls it off to tremendous success.
At the end of the day, I feel that the Present Day Police Man & Flashback Damaged Woman narrative structure is a bit played out, but within that structure I deeply enjoyed the book. While there was a “good police man” storyline, the incompetence and racism of the police force was also made clear. Stratton captured the racial dynamics at play between Madison and Tasha incredibly well without dwelling on it. One of my favorite lines from the book was when Madison announced that she needed to take things into her own hands, because she had read in an anti-racist book that white women should take the initiative to be good allies. It was humorous while perfectly characterizing Madison.
This book does go into detail about the abuse that both Tasha and Madison suffer. There are dark themes related to domestic abuse, child abuse, and rape. While it is not a light read by any stretch, it was an incredible book whose plot twist I didn’t guess until nearly the very last page.