Book: “The Marriage Pact” by Michelle Richmond
Publishing Info: Bantam, July 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: I received and ARC from the publisher.
Book Description: 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.
Review: Ahhh, marriage. I’ve been married to my husband for eight years, and while it certainly isn’t a perfect marriage, it’s a good one. Probably because we don’t strive for perfection. And because we don’t strive for perfection nor are we perfectionists in any way, I take solace in the fact that had we been approached by a deranged marriage cult we probably would have answered with a solid
But lucky for us readers, Alice and Jake in Michelle Richmond’s “The Marriage Pact” did not make the same choices that I would make. After all, had they said ‘no thanks’, we wouldn’t have gotten this tense and dark thriller that took me by surprise. As someone who didn’t have any expectations going into it I had no idea what to expect, but I’m thinking that in some ways that worked in the book’s favor. Because after letting it collect some dust on my book stack, I finally picked it up and cursed myself for not picking it up sooner.
“The Marriage Pact” is a slow building thriller that puts the reader in the position of Jake and Alice, newlyweds who find themselves invited to join a prestigious and secret group specifically for married couples. They are both written in such a way that I could definitely see them getting sucked into it: for Alice, her commitment phobia from her past could easily make her nervous about falling out of step with Jake. For Jake, he’s so in love with Alice that he would happily indulge her in her eagerness to try it out. And because it’s seen from their perspectives, we too get to experience the gradual change from fun and quirky hobby to all encompassing nightmare. This point is what struck me the most as I read this book: it didn’t rely too much on major twists or turns to get the thrills into the narrative. While I do love a good thriller with lots of game changing moments, the horror and surprise in “The Marriage Pact” was far more based in the realities of the dark sides of human nature and group think, and how far we can be taken because of cognitive dissonance and denial. It felt fairly real that Jake and Alice would find themselves in a frog in the boiling water scenario because of this. The punishments for breaking the ‘rules’ of the group evolved from minor and silly consequences to full blown horror shows, and by the time we got to that they were in so deep that all you could feel was abject dread for them. The cultist perspective was masterfully done, as while Jake (our narrator) knew that things weren’t right, he also seemed under the spell in some ways, thinking that in spite of the horrific circumstances they were finding themselves in that his marriage to Alice was, in fact, stronger when all was said and done.
I do think that this book was a bit longer than it needed to be. While it was a fast read and an entertaining one too, I did find myself thinking that it was kind of repetitive at times. The various punishments and strange meetings with other ‘Friends’, as the members call themselves, tended to make things drag on a bit more than I would have liked, and I did find myself skimming here and there. I also found a few of the details unbelievable or farfetched, specifically about how much power and money this secret group could possibly have. And finally, given that Alice is a freaking LAWYER at a high powered firm, I REALLY found it odd that she didn’t have any problems with the giant manual of rules that you have to agree to abide by, via non negotiable contract. What kind of lawyer would agree to ANY of that without going through the entire manual bit by bit? But those are minor quibbles when the rest of the story was so creative and outside the box of what I’ve come to expect from thrillers today.
Overall I found “The Marriage Pact” to be a satisfying and compulsively readable novel. And it makes me thank my lucky stars that my husband and I are such lazy non perfectionists, lest we be approached by some crazy marriage cult someday.
Rating 8: A solid and original thriller that slowly burns to a disturbing level, “The Marriage Pact” relied less on twists and turns and more on the dark side of human nature.
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