I expected marriage to be a door that we went through. Like a new house, you step into it, expecting it to be an unchanging space to inhabit. But, of course, I was wrong. Marriage is a living, changing thing that you must tend to both alone and together. It grows in all sorts of ways, both ordinary and unexpected.
Bantam | 2017
Opening Hook: The worst marriage present of all time
Main Characters: Met on Married At First Sight, apparently.
Plot Twisty-ness: Tom Cruise jumping on a couch-like levels.
Leah Remini is a personal hero of mine.
I am endlessly fascinated with cults. And for someone to so publicly be trying to take one down despite the danger, gets all the applause from me. I love her. I think she’s amazing.
With that in mind, I wanted to read this book because it had this Scientology-cult vibe in the synopsis. A newlywed couple, Jake and Alice, receive, as a wedding gift, an invitation to join The Pact – a group whose sole focus is to help marriages last forever. Soon Jake and Alice find getting out of that contract is not as easy as you would think it would be for adults who just don’t want to do a thing anymore.
That has L. Ron Hubbard inspiration written all over it – minus the alien nonsense.
But I guess, in order to make a cult thriller thrilling without going all David Koresh on your ass, things have to be fucking ridiculous and leave reason and logic completely behind.
So, for that alone this didn’t really work for me.
First of all, from my experience being a newlywed once upon a time, if someone had come to me and my husband and said “here’s this thing to help you be good at marriage” I would have said, BITCH WE ARE THE BEST AT MARRIAGE WE HAVE SEX FIVE TIMES A WEEK WE SHOULD BE TEACHING CLASSES ON HOW TO BE AMAZING AT MARRIED LIFE.
Because when you’re a newlywed, you’re cocky AF.
Ask me now, five years into it, maybe I’d take a little bit longer to really think about the proposition. You mean I get free vacations? I haven’t had one in forever! I get to go to fancy parties and meet powerful people? Sign me up… Okay, no don’t. I like to stay home.
But you get the idea…
So, right off the bat, the idea that two honeymoon-phase newlyweds would be all, “Oh no! Are we doing this wrong? Somebody help us! What if we break up!?” is just kind of dumb to me. Yeah, I said dumb. You guys should know by now that I’m extra critical when motivations don’t make any sense. And this just didn’t make sense to me.
On top of that, Jake and Alice are a psychologist and lawyer, respectively. We’re talking educated people, confident people. People who should probably have their shit together enough to be able to look at The Pact contract and say, “this seems kind of weird.”
But, whatever. They don’t. They are insecure newlyweds who don’t know if they can survive marriage after only six months together, so they sign this ominous contract to save their marriage that wasn’t in trouble in the first place.
There are some perks to joining that may have seemed enticing, but The Pact is held together by a set of Draconian laws and rules that are basically insane and would be impossible to follow because, you know, life. But the punishment for breaking the rules can be deadly.
At first, the cult is micro-managing things like gift giving, appointments and working late. But soon they are all up in ya bizness when you have lunch with a friend or want to join a band because apparently, you can’t have any kind of singular life outside of marriage if you want it to last forever.
Which brings us to the cult aspect of this story. At first, I found it believable because I watch Leah Remini’s show, okurrr? I know what these fuckers are into – sneaky surveillance, writing up your personal offences, turning family/friends against each other because all that matters is the cult over everything.
So, besides the fact that the psychology of Jake and Alice joining did not ring true to me, the first third of the novel where they are getting embedded with the cult seemed legit and evoked feelings of frustration and distrust because cults, as an outsider, are maddening. And the book hit that nail on the head… in the beginning.
But the rest of the novel went off the rails. It was so increasingly outlandish, completely ruining the honest atmosphere it had built. The cult turns into this unstoppable rogue monster that seemed to exist only to torture people under the guise of saving marriages. And again, the motivation just didn’t make sense. There’s some rant by the leader about unused toasters, but it didn’t really clear anything up for me. I was just like, bitch have a drink and stop freaking out about other people’s marriages and toasters.
Jake has lunch with a friend inside The Pact and next thing you know, that friend is naked in a cell with walls that slowly move to eventually smoosh her like she’s in a Nintendo game, accused of cheating with Jake. And Jake himself is beaten and tortured relentlessly.
This is Jake’s first experience with what will prove to be The Pact’s Gestapo-style tactics for punishment. And when Alice is convicted of caring more about working than her marriage because she had to work late a couple of times as a fucking lawyer, she’s taken to The Pact’s fake court and fake sentenced to a re-education program that ensures submissiveness to the cult’s rules.
It was seriously ridiculous.
Something like Scientology works because the people it throws into “the hole” for punishment are people who are working for Scientology internally. So, if they go missing from their job, no one says anything. And everyone around them is in Scientology and willing to lie to protect the cult. Law enforcement is therefore unable to intervene. But, if a lawyer who works for a company that is not The Pact, and has friends who are not in The Pact and colleagues who are not in The Pact, goes fucking missing and the husband seems shady as shit about it then the police are going to intervene and dominos will inevitably fall. That’s how the book should have ended if it was based in logic.
Seriously, if law enforcement could find Shelly Miscavige, it was would fucking OVER for Scientology so fast. Even faster for The Pact because they would not be recognized as a religion like Scientology, or have tax-exempt status. They are just a bunch of fucking weirdos playing Mad Max with marriages outside of the actual law, and that’s not a thing you can do without consequence.
This book would have worked best if it took place in some kind of dystopian future. A place where The Pact had taken over as a new government or was a separate entity that was allowed to operate outside of the law. Current rules of reality could be suspended in that case.
But it’s not set there. It’s rooted in reality. It’s rooted in the concept of marriage. Like, the most traditional concept that mankind has ever invented.
I think this is why, to me, this book felt disjointed and annoying. There were just so many ways in which this could have been better or in which Jake and Alice could have fought back harder. There were so many options for not being involved with a rogue group of marriage obsessed weirdos anymore. But this book tried so so soooo hard to make The Pact the absolute power that it became ridiculous.
Not to mention, the characters themselves weren’t very likable. While I wanted Jake and Alice to be rid of this annoying AF cult, I also didn’t like them enough to become too emotionally invested.
The narrator, Jake, was the “perfect husband.” At times he came across as a Stepford Wife. He was vanilla, boring, too polite, too forgiving, too set on talking things over and working things out. He had this can’t we all just get along vibe to him. And let me tell you, if I was stuck in a cell undergoing submissiveness re-training and my husband was outside being all friendly and diplomatic with the people who had abducted me against my will, THAT is what is going to end our marriage.
Jake should have gone all David Koresh on their asses.
“WE’RE ADULTS AND WE CAN LEAVE IF WE WANT TO! NOW GIVE ME BACK MY WIFE, I’VE CALLED THE POLICE!!” Then just start mowing ’em down with an AR15, which I hear are quite easy to come by in the USA.
Jake was constantly positioned as better than his wife. As if she was the problem. He was successful, older, grounded. She was younger, wilder, a wannabe rockstar, just starting out in her profession. And that was framed as Jake > Alice. When truly he was just a weak and tedious blowhard who should have known better and fought harder for his wife.
Any twists or turns in the plot that might be there for a gasp-worthy moment are drowned out by the minutia style of the writing that bogs you down in details and inner thoughts and edit-worthy paragraphs, and the ridiculous way the plot was fleshed out and events unfolded.
I wanted to this be so much more than it was. While the writing isn’t bad, I was endlessly annoyed with the execution of the idea, the plot path, the characters and The Pact’s ability to be a dictatorship outside of the law, with no tangible motivation about why the would go to such lengths for other people’s marriages. It’s just weird.
Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.
The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact, and most of its rules make sense: Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .
Never mention The Pact to anyone.
Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples–and then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life, and The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.