I'll admit I'm always drawn to thrillers, whether or not it seems that the plot has been done a thousand times before. So when there's something slithering beneath the surface, something itching to get out, something that might make a book more interesting than just another story about a wife and her child running away from an emotionally abusive relationship, I have to have a go at that.
Sweet Lamb of Heaven stuck out to me, not only because I'm a sucker for great covers, but because there was a whiff of the supernatural about it—something left a bit unspoken because they didn't want to give away too much on the cover copy. Not only that, but there haven't been a whole lot of thrillers coming out (at least not ones that I've been thrilled about, pun intended—check out my Goodreads review of the much-ado-about-nothing Maestra if you don't believe me) so I wanted to give it a try.
"Strange things exist, astonishing oddities—transparent butterflies, three-foot-wide parasites that look like orange flowers, babies born pregnant with their own twins. There are fish like sea serpents, fifty-five feet long, lizards whose species are all female; there's the mysterious roar from outer space, the contagiousness of yawns, the origin of continental drift.
What I want to know is whether the unknowns in nature are only unexplained phenomena or whether there are genuine anomalies—whether a true anomaly exists" (p. 90-1).
Anna and her young daughter Lena find refuge at a worn-down motel run by a friendly older man and inhabited by an unlikely motley crew while they are hiding from Anna's husband, Ned. Ned shows all the signs of a textbook psychopath.
Glibness and superficial charm? Check.
Cunning and manipulative? Check.
Lack of remorse or guilt? Check.
Promiscuous sexual behavior? Check.
Shallow affect? Check.
Pathological lying? Check.
Parasitic lifestyle? Double check.
(adapted in part from the Hare PCL-R Checklist)
And of course, he's decided to be politically inclined, so he needs his perfect family behind him to complete his look.
So slide that plotline over and introduce this other one, the one where Anna heard a voice—seemingly from nowhere, that only she could hear—from the moment Lena was born to the moment she spoke her first word. The voice was intelligent, but also difficult to focus on and it spoke constantly, sometimes reciting literature or philosophy or sometimes just spouting off things Anna could barely follow. She learned to live with it, and it only ceased when Lena was sleeping. She's crazy, right? Or is it something else?
I hope you're sufficiently intrigued, because I'm not giving away any more! As she explores, wondering whether or not she is unique, or what exactly the voice is, she delves even deeper into questions of what language is and where it comes from. We interpret our entire world through the lens of language—in a way it is a barrier as well as a window. Yes, it gives us a way to internally interpret what we see and also describe it to others, but it only gives us a certain set of pre-made instruments to do so. All the letters and basically all the words already exist. That is how we define our world. We are a bit stuck within the realm of our necessitated experience and the development of our language proves that.
It is interesting that Millet is able to interweave the sphere of this high-minded investigation of language, existence, and even spirituality into the plot of this thriller that could otherwise feel a bit been-there-done-that. Her entanglement of the supernatural is on a level that makes you wonder, what if? Because there are things in nature that we can't explain.
And maybe we just aren't listening.
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Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.