One chapter book reviews: Keeping Enemies Closer, chapter 24

Keeping Enemies Closer, the first novel from Littleton writer L.D. Stevens, is billed as a thriller, but it's arguable that it's closer to a fantasy. Not because the elements of a thriller (intrigue, plot twists, fear) aren't there, and not because the elements of what the literary term "fantasy" implies (dragons, sword-fighting, nerds) are -- Enemies is not that kind of fantasy. But underneath the plot points, what enemies amounts to is indeed fantasy -- the future daydream of a high school cheerleader: idyllic, status-obsessed and just as bland.

Consider the book jacket description of Shelby, the heroine herein:

Shelby Harrison had everything she could ask for in this world -- a wealthy father who doted on her, a great career, and wonderful friends. She thought she had everything she would ever need.

It goes on to talk about how "she finally knew what she'd been missing" when she met her boyfriend, a backup quarterback for the Tennessee Vipers. Where the thriller part comes in is that "There were those who would try to take those very things away from her."

It's not the most compelling book jacket ever written, but it's disappointingly a pretty good indicator of what's to come. In chapter 24, we find things presumably coming to a head in Shelby's crisis: She has just received anonymous photos in the mail showing her quarterback boyfriend cheating on her (with her best friend, of course), and she has been plagued by a mysterious stalker, a plot arc elucidated in four major details -- "the threatening calls, the note on her car, the incident at the farmhouse, and the photos" -- each one of which is listed in the six-page space of the chapter exactly three times, roughly in that order: once when Shelby is thinking about it, once when she tells her doting father about it, and once when she tells her grandmother. Here's a excerpt from the father conversation:

"WHAT?" he roared. "You didn't tell me?! Goddamnit, Shelby, why?"

"I don't know!" she cried. "I thought that if I didn't make a big deal about it, it wouldn't be a big deal!"

"Shelby, if anything happened to you and I didn't or couldn't do anything -- that would literally destroy me! Do you understand that? You're all I have in this world! Nothing else matters," he said, grabbing her and holding her tightly.

It felt good to have her dad holding her. It had been way too long.

Those exclamation marks, caps and italics are Stevens', by the way. To be fair, though, that's easily the most melodramatic section of the chapter.

Nevertheless, it's revealing. Shelby, with her great career and her awesome friends, also has a perfect family. Sure, her father may be a little gruff and overprotective sometimes, but underneath, he's just a big ol' teddy-bear. Meanwhile, Shelby's grandmother is downright beatific -- Stevens at one point uses the words "white haired angel" to describe her.

And that ultimately seems to be the biggest problem, here: There may be a crisis happening to Shelly, but she's more a foil for it than a participant. She has no real faults, nor do the people around her we're meant to see as good guys; on the other hand, those who are not good guys are cloaked and menacing. Shelly's crisis is entirely external: the forces "who would try to take those very things away from her" swooping in and taking an entirely undeserved crap on her soft-focus existence.

And it's hard to empathize with the perfect girl, even if she's getting the short end of the stick for a while.


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