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Careful What You Wish For


Careful What You Wish For

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR will almost certainly strike a familiar chord with anyone who reads it. Hallie Ephron has written several stand-alone works, each with a different but nonetheless memorable theme. She continues that streak here with a novel that neatly and comfortably straddles the domestic thriller and cozy mystery genres and is guaranteed to appeal to fans of both.

When we meet Emily Harlow, she has made a successful vocational transition from elementary school teacher to professional organizer. The change in occupation was occasioned by Emily organizing her sock drawer, recording the process and posting it online. The popularity of the video led Emily to partner with a friend to form a business called Freeze-Frame Clutter Kickers, which assists clients in decluttering their homes and thus their lives. The hook here is that Emily’s husband is a hoarder. He calls it a collection, but it is actually by any definition an accumulation. This contradiction of sorts is a source of subtle but very real tension in their lives, an 800-pound bear in the room that they each tiptoe around to varying degrees of success.

"Ephron displays her imaginative talents at full wattage.... When one can identify with a situation in a novel, you know that it’s a good one, and CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR fits that description."

Fortunately, Emily’s business keeps her plenty busy, and as CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR gets rolling, the Clutter Kickers acquires a couple of very different clients with somewhat similar problems. One is Ruth Murphy, an older woman who explains that she is a recent widow and has discovered that her husband had acquired a storage unit without her knowledge. She wants the Clutter Kickers to, among other things, inventory its contents and help her sort everything out.

The other client is a young married woman named Quinn Newell. Her husband is a pack rat who won’t let her bring things accumulated during her single life into the house. She has decided to get rid of it all and needs the help of the Clutter Kickers to do it.

All the while, Ephron’s narrative creates a subtle atmosphere that something isn’t right. Wait. Actually, nothing is right. Emily makes an extremely startling discovery in the Murphy storage unit that connects the two clients. She soon finds herself on the radar of the local police, thanks to some incriminating video and an untoward incident in a coffee shop. Things snowball until Emily finds that her life is very much in danger from an unexpected source and must rely on help from another unexpected source. By the time the book comes to its uncluttered conclusion, the reader finds that almost everything has changed, and not everyone who was around at the beginning of the story will still be there at the end.

Ephron displays her imaginative talents at full wattage. Readers won’t be able to drive by a storage facility without thinking of Emily, and perhaps will wish that the Clutter Kickers were around to help them sort through their accumulations/collections/whatever and regain a room or five in their households. When one can identify with a situation in a novel, you know that it’s a good one, and CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR fits that description.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 23, 2019

Careful What You Wish For
by Hallie Ephron