Skip to main content

The Perfect Family


The Perfect Family

THE PERFECT FAMILY is quite the wild ride. Readers who are familiar with Robyn Harding’s previous novels know that she always surprises and never disappoints as she strips and flays the secret skin of domestic life in the city and the suburbs from those who have the most to lose in the reveal. This is especially true in this newly published thriller that arrives during the last and uncertain days of this summer.

The book concerns the four Adlers of suburban Portland, Oregon. Contrary to the title, they are anything but perfect. Viv is a commercial and residential interior decorator who is adept at staging houses for resale and turning down-at-the-heel castles into dream homes. Her husband, Thomas, is a high-rolling real estate agent who seemingly knows everyone and has the Midas touch when it comes to matching the right people with the right --- and very expensive --- home. While Viv and Thomas are really good at what they do, they also are quite adept at living beyond their means, or at least right up to the edge of the string.

"[Y]ou will be too busy dodging the plot M-80s that Harding tosses into the mix right up to the last page to set this compelling work aside before you are through."

Their son Eli, who has just returned from his prestigious college, has announced that he isn’t going back and seems more interested in playing first-person shooter computer games than looking for a job or doing anything else. As for their daughter, Tarryn, she is in the throes of high school adolescence, which is difficult even in the best of circumstances. She seems dead set on getting in her own way while being as obnoxious as possible in every conceivable manner to almost anyone who will listen…and many who won’t.

This steaming domestic cauldron is bad enough but hits a new low when their home suddenly becomes the target of vandalism --- starting with eggs, then bricks, and finally vehicular damage. At first, it seems that the Alders were randomly targeted by neighborhood urchins, but then it becomes evident that their house was specifically selected. The reason will be tough to sort out because each member of the family has a secret.

Viv has a very bad habit/compulsion that she acts upon when in the homes of strangers. Due to the nature of her work, she has lots of opportunities to do so. One act in particular catches up with her. Thomas recently attended a beery bachelor party that he can barely remember. He doesn’t have to because one of the entertainers who was there is sending him compromising photos and demanding money to keep them out of the hands of his family members. Eli’s college career has been derailed in great part because of a horrific hazing incident that he witnessed but did not participate in. He is torn between loyalty to his friends and doing what is right, and just wants to avoid it all. As for Tarryn, she’s in danger of failing because she’s up all night on her computer --- and it’s not for term paper research. She has a side business and is cleaning up in disguise under a pseudonym. One of the problems is that someone seems to know who she is.

The Adler house could be under attack for any number of reasons, but no one in the family can reveal what his or her role might be. Talk about your slinky handcuffs. Each is going to have to tear off a scab or two to get to the truth and stop the carnage. None of them may have the courage to do so.

Harding handles the narrative chores superbly in THE PERFECT FAMILY by advancing the story through the alternating first-person point of view of each family member. No one gets to hog very many pages at one time; as a result, things clip along quickly, even as the suspense builds to a wonderfully excruciating level. It’s one of those books where, if you stop reading, you will spend a great deal of time wondering what will happen next, and why. Of course, you will be too busy dodging the plot M-80s that Harding tosses into the mix right up to the last page to set this compelling work aside before you are through.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 12, 2021

The Perfect Family
by Robyn Harding