Review: Bloodline by Jess Lourey

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★★★½

Thomas & Mercer | 2021

Filed Under: Good for her


The vibe had so much potential, but for me, it was a bit of a letdown. I wanted it to be more sinister than it was. But I still liked it. Does that make sense? Well, I wish it would, but I have no intention of working on my clarity.

Bloodline is about Joan, recently knocked up and engaged and mugged, she moves from the city to her fiance’s small hometown where everything is Stepford Wives meets Rosemary’s Baby, but mostly without any of the things that make those stories fun and spooky.

This novel even gets a little meta, with Joan stating how much she loved Rosemary’s Baby and wishes she could cut her hair as short as Mia Farrow, but oh nooo what would people think? I’m happy to report she ultimately does cut her hair when she realizes the people whose opinions she was worried about fucking suck. And isn’t that always the way of it – spending our energy on people who don’t deserve it.

So, honestly, I spent a good chunk of this novel being like “good for her.” Fuck with them. Sneak into their houses and steal their shit. I’m cheering you on, Joan!

you're doing amazing ariana grande GIF

The plot relies heavily on the “don’t trust her, she’s crazy,” narrative device that is used so often to make female leads unreliable. Usually, I hate it, but here it works because it’s taking place in 1968. You know shit was misogynistic AF, so it’s very easy to believe literally everyone would have no problem dismissing Joan, even the other women around her.

But I’m not 100% sure Joan is supposed to be unreliable to the reader, because I knew in my gut that those bitches bringing over pot roast were giving me bad vibes right from the jump. I never distrusted Joan’s perspective. I don’t really see how a reader could because everyone is weird except for her.

Kourtney Kardashian Snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

The plot kind of dabbles in the atmosphere of 1968 when women’s rights actions were being brought to the streets. Reproductive rights marches and the burning of bras – this was the start. The author uses that historical shift to her advantage, creating an MC who is clearly a burgeoning feminist, but also being cockblocked (basically literally,) manipulated and gaslit at every turn around every perfectly manicured hedge.

Joan struggles with doing what is expected of her and also wanting something different for herself. She’s pregnant, she’s engaged; she’s moved into a beautiful house in a suburban area and her husband makes enough so she doesn’t have to work. That’s supposed to be the dream, but she finds herself wanting something different and isn’t exactly as enamoured with the life being offered to her as those offering it would like her to be. And there’s where the trouble starts.

As Joan tries to settle into her new life, she feels watched, stalked and like the neighbours are a little bit too interested in Cletus the Fetus. (Spoiler, she does not name the child Cleetus.)

nbc santiago GIF by Brooklyn Nine-Nine

She also gets a job at the dinky newspaper in town, and one of her first assignments is to write about the arrival of a hippie-commune type dude who doesn’t wear shoes and claims to be a child abducted from the town years before. Joan sets out to find if Hippie Dude is telling the truth, which means diving deep into the still open cold case, even if what she finds out casts suspicions on her neighbours, her in-laws and local politicians.

The more Joan investigates, and the more she bucks against the life being pushed on her, the more sinister the seemingly constant dinner parties become and the feelings that she’s being watched intensify. She knows she has to leave, but it’s not as simple as just driving out of town.

The ending is the culmination of all those “good for her” moments, but the bulk of the novel was mostly flat for me. The conform vs be progressive theme was done beautifully, but the rest is one note. It’s on the shorter side for page count, but the pace is a slow burn. The creepy cult aspect wasn’t nearly played up enough, and the more important plot points were kind of bland. Nothing new was added to this particular kind of story and given the playground it existed in, it was kind of a disappointment. I was hoping for something with a little more kick.

Overall this novel didn’t totally land for me, but I could never dislike a novel that keeps me saying:

Arrested Development GIF

Perfect town. Perfect homes. Perfect families. It’s enough to drive some women mad…

In a tale inspired by real events, pregnant journalist Joan Harken is cautiously excited to follow her fiancé back to his Minnesota hometown. After spending a childhood on the move and chasing the screams and swirls of news-rich city life, she’s eager to settle down. Lilydale’s motto, “Come Home Forever,” couldn’t be more inviting.

And yet, something is off in the picture-perfect village.

The friendliness borders on intrusive. Joan can’t shake the feeling that every move she makes is being tracked. An archaic organization still seems to hold the town in thrall. So does the sinister secret of a little boy who vanished decades ago. And unless Joan is imagining things, a frighteningly familiar figure from her past is on watch in the shadows.

Her fiancé tells her she’s being paranoid. He might be right. Then again, she might have moved to the deadliest small town on earth. 

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