Book Review : A Dangerous Woman by Mary McGarry Morris

A Dangerous Woman (Amazon Link)

Author : Mary McGarry Morris
Published By : Penguin Books
Year Published : 1991
Genre / Tags : General Fiction, Drama, Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Mood : Grim, Sad, yet Intriguing.
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 368 pages (Paperback)


Martha Horgan is not like other women. She stares. She has violent crushes on people. She can’t stop telling the truth. Martha craves love, independence, and companionship, but her relentless honesty makes her painfully vulnerable to those around her: Frances, her wealthy aunt and begrudging guardian; Birdy, who befriends her, then cruelly rejects her; and Colin Mackey, the seductive man who preys on her desires. Confused and bitter, distyrusting even those with her best interests at heart, Martha is propelled into a desperate attempt to gain control over her own life.A novel of unnerving suspense and terrifying insight into the perversities of passion, A Dangerous Woman is as devastatingly honest as Martha herself.


Tw : Mental illness

So, this book was adapted into a movie many years ago. I watched the trailer and it looked like a feel-good lessons-learned little Hallmark movie. This is just hilarious because upon finishing this book, it could not be more different from that. This is an often darkly cynical book about a lot of deeply flawed people. Even the setting is seen from a critical angle. The setting- that sort of usually romanticized quaint small town setting where everybody knows everybody and lives simply- but it’s also a hotbed of ignorance and exclusion.

The story is very much an indictment of that. But for every negative aspect there are moments of hope and possible redemption. I just had no clue where this book was actually going or what its point would end up being, which ended up becoming a thrilling thing unto itself- that sense of unpredictability. It’s interesting that the new cover makes this appear to be a thriller, as this is a novel with many hard-to-place characteristics.

I want to give this book a 10/10 because the writing was terrific beyond expectation. Even when I was cringing or really couldn’t stand a character or situation, even when I HATED what was going on, all aspects remained consistently engaging and nuanced. But unfortunately, the plot is not great. Just not as well thought out as it could be. Some moments seem wasteful or not worthy of inclusion, but the story at large remains interesting and thought provoking.

The characterization really stands out. The main characters feel real. Even the very unlikable ones had texture and development. At the center of it all is Martha. I wanted to reach into the book and reason with, guide, and help her. It’s especially eerie reading this in 2019, where I think a figure like her might have been able to be understood and understand herself much better due to the resources and knowledge many of us are lucky to have today. Advancements that are sometimes taken for granted in favor of waxing poetic about the good old days.

What we know of Martha is that she isn’t neurotypical and/or is mentally ill in some way that is not properly diagnosed. Her struggle is not attended to nor understood because her family, friends, and bootstrappy local culture doesn’t have much in way of mental health awareness.

What struck me is how relatable her problems can be because she has such an array of general symptoms that aren’t immediately conveyed as extreme, and only slowly begin to get worse from neglect. I think anyone with anxiety, depression, OCD, family problems, or even just a general awkwardness or trouble fitting in at any point in their life can relate to some small parts of this character. Which makes the late turns in the story more haunting.

The storyline begins at a turning point, when her functioning life is starting to go off the rails. Every event, every person met, and every prevailing attitude expressed seems to factor into some wild repercussions at the end. The ending is truly something out of left field, even the writing style seemed to change.

There is a late plot point that I found heartbreaking, if subtle. I’m going to bring it up here, Somewhat of a Spoiler. / Martha spends much of the book feeling inadequate, and wishing she could be more like ordinary people. At one point she meets someone who strongly empathizes with her and is in a similar situation. A person who, from the reader’s vantage point, is one of the healthier potential influences in her life if only in offering an understanding viewpoint. Her kneejerk reaction is to shun them, for reminding her of the things that make her feel inferior to the larger culture she lives in. Her goal is to be accepted by everyone and not just one person. At that point I had already begun to notice how a shame of being different had seeped into Martha’s consciousness and colored her every perspective. Cultivating a sense a self hatred and lack of self esteem that has her struggling to be a narrow sense of “normal”- even if it’s against her best interests. / End Spoiler.

The aforementioned ending and climax is over-the-top but somehow not unbelievable in light of everything that occurs before. This is not a happy book and could have been told with more sensitivity, but on the whole I felt it inspires thought and compassion. Seriously underrated.

Overall Rating – 9/10

Why You Should Try It – If you’re in the mood for a very multi-faceted and different piece of general fiction. If you like reading from the perspective of a character who would usually play an under-nuanced antagonist in a thriller, and if you like pondering the psyche of characters.

Why You Might Not Like It – Very unhappy book, unlikeable characters, a grim sequence of events. Martha can be frustrating to read about at many intervals. There is a “slice of life” writing style that can seem to center many irrelevant-seeming events.

A Dangerous Woman (Amazon Link)

Have you read this book or are interested in reading it? Please feel free to share your thoughts, I read and appreciate all your comments and likes.


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