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The House Guest


The House Guest

There is the universal problem with the house guest who won't leave. In THE HOUSE GUEST, Hank Phillippi Ryan delivers a house guest who is definitely more than she first appears to be. Actually, the situation suggests the plural form of this singular title.

When we meet Alyssa Macallan, she is drowning her sorrows in a martini in a local hotel because of her pending divorce, with all its attendant bitterness and acrimony. It's not an exclusive hotel where she might meet some of her husband Bill’s rich and tony friends, but a traveler-friendly kind where rooms are affordable. As she prepares to leave, ready to finish contemplating her misery in her large, exquisite, lonely house, a woman enters the bar and they start talking. Bree Lorrance, her newfound acquaintance, haltingly alludes to a tale of flight, fear and abuse.

"Readers must be careful about possible whiplash from the twists and turns that come up.... The whole story is a clever view of many women who accompany ultra-wealthy men.... The ending is absolutely and unexpectedly perfect."

Alone in her mansion, Alyssa is haunted by fears that Bill might sneak back inside to frighten her. She is convinced that he leaves clues on purpose to show her that he is powerful and can do anything he pleases, in spite of an agreement between them, curated by their attorneys, that he will let her know when he is coming to the house. Her curiosity piqued, Alyssa Googles Bree's name to see if she's really who she says she is. Everything checks out, from her name to her low-paying job with a small bank. The next night, Alyssa is back at the bar, and this time she invites Bree to stay in her guest house.

In the mansion, the two women continue to bond over crackers and cheese. Bree tells Alyssa she doesn't feel safe, and Alyssa believes she has met a kindred spirit. As their relationship slowly progresses, Alyssa helps Bree with a DNA test that Bree's mother had asked her to do. Bree finds out, again with Alyssa's help, that she is heir to a fortune. A previously unknown brother had left her his estate when he recently passed away. The young and handsome attorney whom they meet when visiting the brother's house is the one who breaks the news, and from that point on, he's a part of their group as well. Dez takes Bree and Alyssa to his office, where a senior partner explains the inheritance and shows them documents regarding the huge sum that Bree will be receiving.

Because it's going to take a while for the estate to go through probate, Bree continues to stay with Alyssa in her mansion. While Bree is in the guest house, Dez ends up staying in a guest room. They drink a lot, which is why the two women tell Dez to stay and not drive home. Curiously, he doesn't leave.

We learn more about Alyssa and Bill and their years of marital bliss, until the day that Bill told Alyssa he needed a "break" and was moving out. Now she's angry and bitter. She had pictured a life with children, but Bill didn't want any. She had met him while she was in law school, but he persuaded her to quit because he came from a wealthy background, with a trust fund and a lucrative business. Their life together had been idyllic, with homes on the coast and in the Caribbean, hired people who catered to their every whim, and membership in exclusive clubs. Now Alyssa is worried that she'll end up with nothing after giving him eight years of her life.

As the plot unfolds, we become suspicious of Bree and Dez. Their relationship is strange, almost more like siblings than anything romantic. Why is Dez so entrenched in their lives, even accompanying them to Cape Cod when Alyssa decides they need to get away for a bit? Alyssa, through the narrative that shares her thoughts and feelings, wonders about them. And when an FBI agent shows up, things get stranger and stranger.

Readers must be careful about possible whiplash from the twists and turns that come up. Some confirm what we've smugly suspected as we see where the novel is taking us, feeling certain that we know who is really not who they say they are. But then Ryan pulls aside the curtain, and we see what lies behind it --- at least at that moment, which isn't a guarantee that what we are looking at isn't a masterful manipulation while the truth is something else after all. Whiplash, indeed.

The whole story is a clever view of many women who accompany ultra-wealthy men. The trophy wives. The ones the men dismiss and don't respect. Even Alyssa's beautiful house, which Bill proudly said was bought for her, was decorated not to her taste, but to that of his high-priced decorator. As a result, it is cold and colorless. Like her current life. Ryan also forces us to consider the issue of trust. While Alyssa repeats that she doesn't really know Bree, at the same time she likes and trusts her. We wonder how much of that trust is due to the fact that she's been convinced that Bree isn't seeking financial gain because Bree is coming into her own money. The ending is absolutely and unexpectedly perfect.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on February 16, 2023

The House Guest
by Hank Phillippi Ryan