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Beware the Woman


Beware the Woman

Megan Abbott has gained a well-deserved reputation for writing psychological thrillers that deftly probe the darkness that lurks around the perimeters of many women’s lives. Her latest novel, BEWARE THE WOMAN, does so in a particularly effective way, combining the claustrophobia of geographic isolation with the vulnerabilities of pregnancy to tell one woman’s harrowing story.

Jacy was raised by her own mother to be independent, to set high standards for herself, and not to settle for second-best. Her mom was hardly a paragon of healthy romantic relationships, but nevertheless, she clearly wants Jacy to make good choices and, above all else, to put herself first. So Jacy is unsettled but not entirely surprised when her mom, on receiving a disillusioned phone call from her shortly after marrying Jed, sighs and says, “Honey, we all marry strangers.” Surely, thinks Jacy, that couldn’t apply to her and her new husband.

"Readers won’t soon forget Jacy’s fierce yet frightened internal monologue as she struggles to make sense of her situation --- and survive it."

For Jacy, Jed breaks a long chain of unfortunate relationships with “bad men.” Jed, by contrast, is a sweetheart. He’s a neon artist (a so-called “tube bender”), and ever since they met, he’s been (almost) unfailingly kind and attentive to Jacy, especially now that she’s pregnant. He’s both excited and anxious for them to make their first trip together, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where his father (a retired doctor) now lives year-round in what was once the family’s summer home. Jed’s mother died when he was a baby, so he and his dad have always been close. However, Jacy is surprised to see how little Dr. Ash seems to know or care about Jed’s profession, among other details.

At first, Jed and Jacy’s trip is relaxing, bordering on idyllic. Jed has a chance to relive some favorite memories and places from his youth, and Jacy is enjoying being pampered during her pregnancy. But after a health scare that might affect the health of the couple’s unborn child, things quickly take a turn. Jacy begins to wonder if her mom’s hesitations about her relationship, her warning that “we all marry strangers,” might have some truth to them after all.

Abbott skillfully employs a beautiful but claustrophobic setting. The remoteness of Jed’s family’s home is initially appealing but soon grows menacing, especially as Jacy’s freedoms grow increasingly curtailed. Similarly, Abbott shows how other people’s solicitation about Jacy’s pregnancy at first feels like care but soon comes off as invasive, especially as their judgments cause her to question her own past choices, with which she thought she had come to terms.

The uniquely vulnerable position of being pregnant, constantly weighing how your own decisions affect the future of a person who’s not yet born, is amped up exponentially here. Readers won’t soon forget Jacy’s fierce yet frightened internal monologue as she struggles to make sense of her situation --- and survive it.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 31, 2023

Beware the Woman
by Megan Abbott