…like I woke up from a nightmare when I finished this book… | What Lies Between Us by John Marrs


They say every house has its secrets, and the house that Maggie and Nina have shared for so long is no different. Except that these secrets are not buried in the past.

Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Because Maggie has done things to Nina that can’t ever be forgiven, and now she is paying the price.

But there are many things about the past that Nina doesn’t know, and Maggie is going to keep it that way—even if it kills her.

Because in this house, the truth is more dangerous than lies. – Goodreads

TL;DR: The most depressing and disturbing thriller I’ve ever read. The one thing I’ve learned from What Lies Between Us is that mothers will literally do anything for their children, for better or for worse. Don’t be fooled by the 5 topazes because, honestly, I don’t even know whether this book deserves them because while so many things happen and for that, this thriller is unforgettable, the things that happen are all so awful that I kind of wish I never read it.

The synopsis of this book already sounds turbulent, but that word doesn’t describe the actual journey that unfolds within these pages. What happens in What Lies Between Us is equal parts horrifying, maddening, unbelievable, and overall, tragic.

But, truly, what the fuck did I just read? I’m still asking myself that, and it’s been several hours since I’ve finished the book. All I know is that I feel a deep-seated melancholy that I have never felt after reading a thriller or any book before. I feel queasy, uncomfortable, and numb – as I just woke up from a terrifying nightmare and remember everything that’s happened but wish they didn’t.

Because that’s what this book is: a nightmare. For not only the characters involved but also for the reader because you have to actually read and live through what they do. At least the theme of the book is clear: mothers will do anything for their children. Seriously, anything. There’s a poeticness to the theme that is also quite terrifying if you really think about it.

And with that, you start to think: if I were a mother, much less a parent, would I do the things that Maggie has done? I obviously want to yell a resounding “No, hell no!” but if I were in Maggie’s shoes, I don’t know. I really don’t, especially since I have never been a mother and have never loved someone so much as Maggie loves Nina. Interestingly, despite what Nina has done as well, in her own twisted way, she sincerely loves her family. Like with Maggie, if I’m put in the same tragic situation that Nina is put in, my perspective would probably be just as broken and warped as Nina’s is.

Of course, I’m not condoning either of their actions because um, no, just no. All I’m saying is that, no matter how much you end up hating them, despite their actions, they do have motives for what they do to themselves and to others, and, shockingly, you understand where they’re coming from because once you know why they act/acted in such a way, you realize that deep-seated trauma is, most definitely and quite simply, the root of all their issues and their actions. If only they just went to therapy before it was too late, *sigh.* Nina, for one, needs decades of therapy, oh my lord.

Besides the one-in-a-million characters, I mentioned all the knots and layers that this book has, and I want to emphasize that because while there are many twists, they’re written in a way that enable you to have inklings but not whole pictures; thus, at the end of the book, you’re not exactly shocked by all of the twists because you see them coming – the author wanted you to see them coming – but you’re still petrified because you don’t know the details of said twists, so you just end up being a nervous wreck regardless the whole way through. Which, in my opinion, is what a great thriller should do.

Unfortunately, there are some things that this thriller does not do so well with. The first one is, obviously, how much torment the author puts each character through. I discussed this with my sister – who didn’t even read the book, mind you, but I was at my wit’s end to talk about it with someone after I finished – and she used the word “gratuitous horror,” which I agree with, though, after having some distance from this story, I believe a more apt term would be “psychological torture porn.” Doesn’t help that the ending is rushed as hell and gives the reader one measly second of closure, I swear.

Additionally, there are some aspects of this book that stretch the limit of belief. I’m not going to spoil anything but seriously, after 25 years, you’d think you’d remember something or someone would be suspicious…or Maggie would just say it, for god’s sake. Granted, I’m not a psychologist or have ever taken a psych course, so I could just be ignorant, but I don’t know – there are just some things that happen that made me cock my head a little.

Ultimately, I’m giving this book 5 topazes because it made me go through so many emotions that I’m still reeling from, and I believe that if a book makes you feel and think, which this one does, then it deserves some sort of ovation. Now, do I like that it made me feel like absolute shit? Never. Do I begrudgingly respect the author for pumping out such a memorable story? Yes, because I know that I’ll be thinking about these characters and their lives for a very, very long time.

Content warnings

Phew, boy, where do I start? What Lies Between Us by John Marrs contains topics and themes of forced captivity, miscarriage, grief, death, drug abuse, illness, blood, and violence, specifically that born from rage. This novel also contains non-graphic depictions of pedophilia and child sexual abuse. Please read at your own risk.

Read: 02/24/23 – 02/28/23

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