You Were Made for This

by Michelle Sacks
Hachette, June 2018, $27

When Sam unexpectedly inherits a charming country cottage next to a nature reserve from his Swedish step-grandmother, it seems like the perfect opportunity to start over. A former professor of anthropology, Sam intends to try his hand at documentary filmmaking while his wife, Merry, plays the devoted homemaker, gardening, decorating, cooking, and caring for their darling infant son Conor in the fairy-tale Swedish countryside. But when Merry’s closest childhood friend Frank, on sabbatical from her high-flying corporate career, comes for an extended summer visit, the idyllic family scene begins to unravel.

At first, Frank seems to revel in joining Merry and Sam’s cozy domesticity, but she soon begins to notice troubling hints that the happy picture may be an illusion. Merry and Frank have a complicated history, with a deep, unspoken rivalry that belies their sisterly closeness. All three main characters come from dysfunctional family backgrounds. All three, also, are keeping secrets from the others. When tragedy strikes, Sam, Merry, and Frank each react in their own idiosyncratic and self-destructive ways as summer fades into fall.

Told vividly in sharp, clear prose, with the distinct first-person voices of each of the three in alternating chapters, You Were Made for This examines the menacing shadows that lurk just beneath the surface of the seemingly ordinary. Almost nothing is what it seems to be in this disturbing psychological exploration of the complex dynamics and shifting boundaries of friendship, family, marriage, and parenthood. The mystery builds slowly at first, then accelerates until its chilling conclusion.

Jean Gazis
Teri Duerr
June 2018