4 out of 5 stars to The Marriage Pact, a thriller and suspense novel written by Michelle Richmond and set to be released on July 25, 2017. Many thanks to the author, NetGalley and the publisher, Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine Bantam, for the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC). I really enjoyed reading this novel and felt it had a lot of contained suspense, as I couldn’t put it down but it wasn’t the kind where you were scared; you just desperately wanted to know what was going to happen.
Why This Book
I’d seen the book on a few people’s Goodreads To Read or Currently Reading lists, and it looked interesting. I requested a ton of books on NetGalley to try to earn my 80% badge, and I got lucky when they approved this request.
Plot, Characters & Setting
Alice and Jake had been finalizing the list of 200 guests for their upcoming wedding when she won a big case at her law firm and felt compelled to invite one more guest and his wife: Liam Finnegan, a client who made a point of telling Alice’s boss how instrumental she was to winning the lawsuit. When they arrive home from their honeymoon, Jake and Alice open the Finnegan’s gift, an invitation given only to a select few to join “The Pact,” a group of married couples who call each other “Friend” and help ensure everyone’s marriage is successful. At first, it seems a bit odd but given their history as a couple, both think it’s a good idea and jump in with open arms. They meet Vivian, who is their guide for the initial few months, and begin reading the bylaws, a huge tome of a contract that dictates how often they must give each other gifts, plan vacations, see other Friends, talk to one another, et al. And if they do not, there are consequences with differing levels of punishment. As the weeks go by, Alice and Jake don’t take the group too seriously and begin accidentally committing minor infractions. The punishments begin, and it starts to completely unnerve them both. When they push back and try to leave The Pact, they’re essentially told “No one ever leaves The Pact. And The Pact never lets anyone go.” Alice and Jake attempt to follow all the rules, but work gets in the way, and Jake meets another Friend, whom he once knew before he was married. The woman tells him about the dangers of The Pact, but it’s too late to save themselves, she warns. Weeks go by where Alice and Jake try to balance everything, but frequently find themselves with intrusive and harmful punishments… all culminating in Alice’s disappearance and Jake flying to Ireland to find the creator of The Pact, in hopes he can convince the strange woman to let them leave.
Approach & Style
I read the novel through a Kindle Reader on my iPad. It has about 5200 lines, which works out to about 400 book pages. There are over 80 chapters, as each one is short and focused on a multitude of events happening in Alice and Jake’s lives.
The novel is told in past tense (with a few exceptions for present tense) and with Jake as the first person narrator whose point of view and perspective dominates the story.
It took me about 5 hours to read the novel. I read 20% the first day and then 80% the second day. I couldn’t put it down on the second day and only did so to go out for dinner. I found myself so interested in the middle section that I sometimes skimmed pages to get to the action, as I was shaking trying find out what was going to happen.
The idea behind The Pact and the story is excellent. The divorce rate is too high. People take one another for granted. You’re often left on your own to solve marital issues unless you push yourselves to attend therapy. It sounds like a fantastic idea: a group of Friends meant to help you focus on your life as a couple, some rules and guidelines to ensure you are constantly thinking about the other person and minor punishments meant as little reminders not to get off track. But when it gets out of hand, and you realize this is more like a cult who like to torture one another, wow… the subtle actions and words really leave you right on the line, trying to decide is this really happening? Is this one bad apple making the group worse than it really is? Are they truly a cult or is it all a game? Who is behind this? And it quickly becomes a page-turner, where you don’t want to put it down.
The book can seriously play on someone’s fears about marriage. It makes you think what the point of it is, how and when you separate yourselves as a couple and two individual people. You see the love between a newlywed couple being ripped apart over minor issues in the hope that it will teach them not to ever let something big or bad happen between them. The intricacies of how The Pact always knows what’s going on, how they simply just accept what happens to them and the balance of power between all the couples… really gets you ignited and passionate over what’s right and wrong in this book. All good stuff, especially when you have such an emotional gut reaction to what’s happening. The descriptions of the behavior, the punishments and the setting really help create the suspenseful drama.
When I read a book, I throw myself into it, usually letting most unbelievable things go if they are meant to drive the action or plot forward. I’m pretty forgiving when a situation happens that probably wouldn’t or couldn’t in real life. It’s a book. That’s what drama is for. If I want reality, I’ll look at my own life. And that’s what readers will have to do with this book — let some things go —
as there’s a 1 and a million chance something like this could ever happen, but there are at least 10 situations where some readers are going to say “No way. That’s ridiculous.” And they’re right, but then again, this is a story meant to entertain and scare you. So… I worry that some readers are going to be disgruntled with parts of the plot, and I can’t say much as I don’t want to give away spoilers. But a few easy examples… (don’t read the next paragraph as it’s not really a spoiler, but does give a bit of action away).
Why would a lawyer sign The Pact without reading it? How could they not go to the police? How did The Pact know things about Jake and Alice’s past? Why would you not ask the question to the leaders: “What should I do? If I don’t attend your meeting today, you will punish me. But if I miss this court date, I lose my job. It’s not that you aren’t important… but without a job, how do I live?” That last comment is in reference to a major part of the plot where Alice is asked to do something by the same person who is helping her move forward at the law firm… and if she does do what they ask, she’ll get in trouble at work. Something just didn’t jive well for me there. I kept thinking to myself…. ask them what they want you to do and stop saying “I just won’t show up to the meeting with the Friends.” At that point, they’d already been punished a few times… why??? And they also hadn’t read the full bylaws. I wanted to smack them for not reading the whole thing.
I loved the first 80% of this book. I put it down to go to dinner at a point where it was absolutely unreal and intense in the suspense and drama. I was so excited to finish it when I got home. And then I did. But the ending was not sufficient for me. It’s a good ending, but it wasn’t the one I wanted. Alice and Jake are essentially faced with a choice in the last few chapters, one which as they learn more about The Pact, they realize what has truly happened in the last few months. And they have a decision to make which is a good thing, but wow… I think I might not have done that if I were in their shoes!
Author & Other Similar Books
Michelle Richmond has several other books which I will definitely peruse, as I enjoyed her writing style, characters and plot very much in this one.
The story felt like a cross between “The Stepford Wives” and the movie “The Gift.” The people in The Pact all feel like a cult being controlled by someone behind the scenes as the Wellingtons do Stepford. And Jake and Alice receives strange gifts with scary alternative meanings and consequences as occurs in the movie “The Gift.”
Questions & Final Thoughts
I really like this book despite a little concerns with the ending. It’s the kind of book where I want to keep talking about it. But I won’t give away spoilers. So… a choice for you: (1) Read the book and then let’s talk about it, as there is a lot to say, or (2) Don’t read the book and we can talk about it but I’m gonna reveal all the spoilers so you totally understand it!
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