This must be “Krystin reads nothing but misogynistic stories” month, because this is my second in a row, and let me tell you, I’m fucking over it.
I’ll give this review some context real fast. Frederick Starks – a very rich, successful businessman – is married with three kids. His wife, Kayla, is unfaithful to him. They separate. One night, while driving aimlessly, ruminating on the state of his failed marriage, he pulls up to the house of the man Kayla cheated with and beats the shit out of him in front of the man’s wife and children, putting the man into a coma. Police arrive, Starks is caught red-handed, quite literally, and is arrested. He goes to trial and is found guilty.
But for some reason Starks just can’t believe the jury convicted him. Basically his whole position on his guilt is: “my wife cheated, and the guy was mean to me, so I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”
In fact, at his trial, the defence mounted by his attorney is nothing more than a character assassination of Kayla because “she’s a whore“, as if that’s a legit reason to nearly kill a man.
Most of the novel takes place behind bars as Starks learns how to live in the kind of world a prison creates, and goes to therapy sessions with the prison counsellor to deal with his emotional and mental issues.
So, I should preface this by saying this is not the kind of book I typically read. It’s billed as some kind of thriller, but it’s not. That’s a straight up lie. I would categorize this as a drama with a dark setting. But there are no twists or thrills or surprises or mystery or action. It very much follows a then this happened, then this happened, then this happened story telling technique (is that typical for dramas?) that feels decidedly amateur. Truth be told, nothing really happens in this book. There doesn’t seem to be a point to the plot, which is in large part, just therapy sessions of Starks being an asshat.
I would say the writing style was missing the key parts of basic story structure that make reading feel like an experience and less like a chore.
Perhaps if the emotional elements of the novel had been stronger, I wouldn’t have felt as though I was labouring through this. But the emotional elements rested on Stark’s shoulders, and he is the most god-awful character I’ve read since the last book I’ve read – The Last Mrs. Parrish.
Listen, here’s the rule: no one wants to read a lead character that just fucking sucks the whole time.
I’m not saying they can’t be evil or bad. Anti-heros are some of my favourite characters. Walter White, for instance. Characters can be on the evil spectrum and still be likeable. But they have to have redeeming qualities. That could be nothing more than an asshole who is super funny. But there has to be something there.
But Starks just sucks.
He is a giant, sexist angry man-baby who refuses to take responsibility for any of his actions. He continually passes the blame onto his wife because she cheated. When his therapist suggests that perhaps his wife strayed from the marriage because Starks was an emotionally absent husband, who didn’t understand how to love his wife (which is TRUE), Starks is like, no, that makes no sense, and goes right back to being a giant douche.
At first I thought this was going to be an emotional learning journey for Starks, albeit one that was taking forever to get into, but a journey nonetheless. How could a story employ a main character that doesn’t evolve at all? Well, apparently it can happen. You would think that Starks take advantage of his prison time to examine his faults and see where he’d been wrong, to try to redeem himself in some spectacular form from behind bars.
He remains awful, committed that he is right and everyone else is wrong, right up to the last sentence of the novel. Again, I go back to the then this happened critique. Everything about this was a linear story, even Stark’s emotional range. In the end, all this does is a create a feeling that this book is a self-aggrandizing diatribe on how to be an emotionally stunted, unwoke, sexist man-baby.
Instead of growing, Starks decides he’s going to stew in his feelings of “I don’t deserve this” and take it up a notch by becoming the new head inmate in the prison. Like some kind of mob boss. He goes so far as to say, “from now on you’ll address me as Mr. Starks” to a fellow inmate. It’s just so….
The author said on Goodreads, in response to a question, that the book “was inspired by keen observation of failed marriages and relationships.”
Well, based on my keen observations, I’m left to deduce that the author holds the kind of opinion on women and marriage that makes me want to throat punch someone.
Like, what other observations were made here besides “I’m a man, so I get to do whatever I want. My wife should worship me without expecting anything in return” ? What character/story progress was achieved by having a main character be so fucking awful alllll the way through? All that does is make it seems as though Starks’ points of view should be the overall takeaway for the reader.
And just to illustrate my point, I’ve brought along some examples like a good student.
When getting a sponge bath in the hospital:
On the eighth day, Starks smiled and winked at the young female orderly giving him a bath.
When complaining that Kayla is “independant”:
She didn’t treat Starks with the respect she should. I guess what I mean is that she isn’t a [traditional wife.]
[His new girlfriend] acts the way a mother should. She’s a far better person than Kayla ever was or ever will be, and she appreciates me. All the characteristics of a good wife.
Seems to me Starks couldn’t care any less about being in a two-way street, loving relationship with another human being, and really just wants something he owns, who behaves how he wants her too. There is a blatant lack of acknowledging he’s married to a feeling person with needs and wants and opinions.
When explaining why he broke up with Kayla (then girlfriend) in college, and didn’t tell her the real reason why:
There I was, surrounded by attractive, intelligent, fun women. I didn’t want to eventually marry Kayla and feel I’d missed out or had regrets. But I didn’t want to tell her the truth either. She would never have come back to me if I had.
So, Starks breaks up with Kayla because he’s entitled to some new sexual experiences, but then Kayla does the same thing during the break up and it’s another justification for his actions.
She fucked Bernard Hazely in college. Did you know that? After being with him for a few months!
First of all, Kayla was single. And this was YEARS ago. But Starks is still playing judge and jury on a women’s moral standing when it comes to when and how she chooses to have sex with someone. Talk about a grudge. After being with him for a few months?! Oh, pearl-clutchers of the world unite!
When considering he was in prison because of his pride, not his wife:
Had the wrong kind of pride been his undoing, cost him everything? No. Kayla was at fault…She should have known her place.
It’s Kayla who should be in prison.
When complaining that he’d always been the one to handle money in their relationship:
It’s the man’s job to handle expenses. A woman shouldn’t be made to stress about such things.
When talking about how his sex life with Kayla had declined because he worked so much:
Exhausted as I was, I still wanted to have sex with her. She owed me that much.
When Kayla gets a new phone:
You give me the goddamned number and password or our marriage is over.
Because he and Kayla were in an argument, but his grandfather taught him to never hit a woman:
God, but that woman made it difficult for him to abide by that rule.
My favourite part though, is that through most of the book the reader is constantly told what a piece of shit Kayla is because she cheated on Starks. How Starks shouldn’t be held responsible for his actions because of his wife’s infidelity. Only to find out around the 70% mark that Starks has consistently cheated on Kayla as well, with multiple women.
In fact, he even had a child with one of those women!
When his friend points out the hypocrisy that is all-consuming and literally undeniable, Starks’ reason for why it’s different is:
She was my goddamn wife! …I am a man. She’s a wife and mother. Her behaviour is supposed to be beyond reproach.
That’s different. I’m the man.
Just…like do I honestly need to explain why this is wrong? Are you all seriously confused?
Not to mention this little nugget from his lawyer:
You asked me to look into Kayla’s infidelities, specifically all the way back to high school.
WHAT?! Why would a lawyer even do this though? This book just makes me so….
I can’t help but wonder if the author was cheated on by a spouse and this is his way of working through it. Because, good lort.
In terms of plot, one of my biggest issues was the logic of the failed marriage. Starks and Kayla met as young teens, stayed together through high school and college, through starting out as adults (which is so difficult) and trying to make ends meet. And then, when they are successful and settled in life as 30-somethings, Starks has become a cold, unfeeling, clueless husband and Kayla just wants his attention.
But because she’s unfaithful, Starks starts to wonder if Kayla “ever really loved him at all“, or if she always just wanted him for the money.
To me, you don’t stay in a high school relationship with a broke-ass guy on the promise that one day he’ll be rich.
If Kayla’s true life goal was money, she would have married someone already rich and on the way out. That’s how real gold digging is done, mmkay. This idea that she stuck with Starks through thick and thin, with nothing more than a hope that he would one day be a successful tycoon, all the while cheating on him from their basement apartment because she never really loved him, is just absurd. Nobody has time for that kind of uncertain plan. Gold diggers want a sure thing.
It all just came across like an attempt to legitimize Starks’ actions – a reason that he would be as upset as he was to commit this crime; to convince the reader that he was done dirty and truly didn’t deserve to be behind bars, and it didn’t matter that he cheated too, because she’d been cheating for longer and never really loved him. Give me a break.
A failed marriage with his high school sweetheart, his one true love, when they’d had an honest, good marriage? Sure, I could buy that betrayal and heartbreak. But I don’t believe for a second Starks understands what love is. He a giant fucking asshole who is only concerned with ownership of Kayla. He says it himself. “[A mole above Kayla’s pelvis] was mine, just as she was.” Gag me.
This consistent theme that Kayla was just some money hungry whore who didn’t know how to worship her husband properly, and that’s the real reason Starks’ life unravelled, was completely off-putting.
This is a trilogy, but the decision to leave out any clue that Starks is about to be woke leaves me no reason to gamble on reading the rest of the series.
Starks is, in my humble opinion, hands-down the worst conceived lead character I’ve ever read. And I’m glad to be done with him. He can rot in jail.
And P.S. the serpent biting? That’s Kayla too. You know, cause she’s a whore and snake draining Starks dry. Please.