Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Author Spotlight: Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

An international sensation that The Wall Street Journal called a “publishing phenomenon,” this layered, poignant, and chilling novel of psychological suspense is the year’s most stunning American fiction debut. From its wrenching opening to its shocking climax, Beautiful Malice unfolds a haunting story in which people, motives, and circumstances are never what they seem.

Who is Katherine Patterson? It is a question she hopes no one can answer. To erase her past, Katherine has moved to a new city, enrolled in a new school, and even changed her name. She’s done the next best thing to disappearing altogether. Now, wary and alone, she seeks nothing more than anonymity. What she finds instead is the last thing she expected: a friend.

Even more unlikely, Katherine’s new friend is the most popular and magnetic girl in school. Extroverted, gorgeous, flirtatious, and unpredictable, she is everything that Katherine is not and doesn’t want to be: the center of attention. Yet Alice’s enthusiasm is infectious, her candor sometimes unsettling, and Katherine, in spite of her guarded caution, finds herself drawn into Alice’s private circle.

But Alice has secrets, too—darker than anyone can begin to imagine. And when she lets her guard down at last, Katherine discovers the darkest of them all. For there will be no escaping the past for Katherine Patterson—only a descent into a trap far more sinister . . . and infinitely more seductive.

Read an Excerpt!

After Alice’s party, people at school are noticeably more friendly to me. I get smiles and nods in the corridors from students I don’t recognize, and a few even say “Hey, Katherine!” surprising me by knowing my name. And Alice finds me at lunchtime, sits down be¬side me in the cafeteria, and makes me laugh with stories about the other students, gossipy tidbits of information about people I barely know. It’s fun, and I’m more than happy for the company, glad not to be alone anymore.

I don’t question why she would want to spend time with me. I used to be popular, after all, and am used to being liked. Alice says she wants to be my friend; she seems to enjoy my company; she lis¬tens, intently, to everything I have to say. So I am grateful and flat¬tered and pleased. And for the first time since Rachel died, I feel something resembling happiness.

On the Thursday following her party, I call Alice and invite her over for Saturday night. I live with my aunt Vivien, my father’s sis¬ter. I like living with Vivien; she’s warm and easygoing, and I’m grateful that I’m no longer at home, that I can finish high school where nobody has heard of Rachel or the Boydell sisters. I spend a lot of time alone because Vivien goes on so many business trips and if she’s free on weekends she goes away with friends. She’s always encouraging me to invite people to the apartment and clearly thinks it strange that I never socialize, but I’ve grown used to my own com¬pany and enjoy being able to choose exactly what to eat, what to watch, what music I listen to.

“I’ll make dinner,” I tell Alice.

“Awesome,” she says. “Hope you’re a good cook.”

“I am. It’s one of my many secret talents.”

“Secrets, hmm?” Alice is quiet for a minute. “Have a lot of them, do you?”

I laugh, as if the very idea is absurd.

I spend Saturday buying food. I used to cook a lot before Rachel died, when we were still a family, and so I know what I’m doing and what I’ll need. I buy all the ingredients—chicken thighs, cardamom pods, yogurt, cumin, ground coriander, basmati rice—to cook one of my favorite curries. That way I can make it early, before Alice ar¬rives, and when she gets there I can let it simmer and grow more de¬licious as we talk.

I’ve become so used to keeping everything guarded and private, so reluctant to let anyone close, that I’m surprised to realize how much I’m looking forward to Alice’s company. I don’t know when or how the idea of friendship and intimacy became so appealing, but all of a sudden the thought of having fun and getting to know some¬one new is quite irresistible. And although I’m still afraid of reveal¬ing too much, still conscious that friendship can be risky, I can’t quell this feeling of excited anticipation.

I get home, prepare the curry, then shower and dress. I have an hour before Alice arrives, so I call my parents. Mom and Dad and I moved about a year ago. Too many people knew us at home, too many people knew what had happened to Rachel. It was impossible to cope with the pitying stares, the curious looks, the conspicuous whispering wherever we went. I moved in with Vivien so that I could finish high school in the city, a place so big I could keep to my¬self, remain anonymous. My parents bought a house a couple of hours north. They wanted me to live with them, of course, and ar¬gued that I was too young to be leaving home. But I’d started to find their sadness overwhelming, their very presence suffocating, and so I convinced them that the city was the perfect place for me to be, that my very happiness depended on it, and they finally relented.

“Boydell residence.” My mother answers the phone. I changed my last name when I moved and now go by my grandmother’s maiden name, Patterson. It was surprisingly easy to cast off my old name—so easy, at least on paper, to become a new person. I miss my old name. But it goes with the old me, the happy, carefree, sociable me. Katherine suits the new, shyer version. Katie Boydell is no more. Rachel and Katie Boydell—the infamous Boydell sisters—both are gone.


“Sweetheart. I was just about to call you. Daddy and I were talk¬ing about your car.”


“Yes. Now, don’t argue, darling, please. But we’ve decided to get you a new one. It will be safer than the old one. We’ve got the money and it just feels ridiculous to let you drive around in that old bomb.”

“It’s only eight years old, Mom.” I drive her old Volvo, which is already a very new and conservative car for someone my age.

She continues as if I haven’t spoken. “We’ve found this lovely Honda. It gets great mileage, it’s a sweet little car, but best of all it scored really well on all the safety tests. It’ll be perfect for you.”

There’s little point arguing, I don’t want to upset her or make a fuss. Since Rachel’s death my parents have been obsessed with my safety, with doing as much as is humanly possible to make sure that I stay alive. I have no choice but to accept their gifts, their concern.

“Sounds great, Mom,” I say. “Thanks.”

“How’s school going? Have your grades picked up at all?”

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m doing much better.”

“I’ve been reading about the pre- med program at the college here. It’s really highly rated, you know, and has a reputation as good as any in the country. In fact, it really seems to be the place to study the sciences and medicine these days. And there are a lot of out¬standing doctors teaching there. It’s something I’d like you to con¬sider, darling. For me. You could live with us, and you know how pleased Daddy would be if you did that, and you could really con¬centrate on your studies without worrying about rent or bills or your meals. We could take care of you, make it all easier.”

“I don’t know, Mom, I don’t know. I’m enjoying English right now, and history, too. . . . Science isn’t... anyway, I thought I might get a degree in art history, maybe. And, Mom, I really like living here.”

“Oh, of course you do. Vivien’s place is perfect and I know she’d be more than pleased to have you stay there. And what you’re study¬ing now is a wonderful beginning to your education. But it really is only a beginning, darling. You will need to get back on track. Even¬tually. When you’re ready.”

Back on track. When you’re ready. This is as close as Mom can get to mentioning what happened to Rachel, to acknowledging our loss, the life we had before she died. I was top of my class and doing very well. I’d hoped to do well enough to be pre-med in college and then go on to medical school. Obstetrics had been my ultimate goal, I had everything planned. But when Rachel died, my plans fell apart, things went completely off track. The track itself was ripped from beneath me, torn from the ground, obliterated.

And I discovered, during that horrific time, that science and mathematics, all the precise and utterly dependable stuff I used to love so much, were completely useless when it came to understand¬ing grief. Or dealing with guilt.

And now I doubt that I’ll ever be ready to get back on track. I’m on another track now, just slowly, slowly gaining some momentum, and I don’t think I can, or want to, make the sideways leap off.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good. And I’ll mail you some of these brochures.” My mother laughs then, but I hear the little catch in her throat, the sign that this conversation has made her want to cry. “I’ve collected quite a few of them.”

I touch the mouthpiece of the phone, as if by doing so I can give her some comfort. And yet there is no comfort to be given. Her life is lived only in degrees of pain.

“I bet you have,” I say, as warmly as I can.

“Oh.” Her voice is once again crisp, businesslike, all emotion under control. “Listen to me hogging the conversation like this. I bet you want to speak to Daddy. He’s not here, darling, but I can get him to call you later.”

“That’s okay. I’m having a friend over for dinner, actually. Maybe I’ll call tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re having some fun.” I hear that catch in her voice again, then her quick cough to bring her voice back under control. “Have a lovely evening. I’ll tell Daddy to call you tomor¬row. Don’t you call. It’s our turn to pay.”

When I hang up, I feel flat, all excitement for the evening ahead gone. I regret having made the call. It hasn’t made me happy—and I’m certain that it has only made Mom more miserable. It’s always this way with Mom, these days. She’s always talking, always plan¬ning, always full of ideas and pragmatic conversation. It’s as if she can’t bear to be quiet or to allow herself a moment’s silence. This way, she gives herself no space to remember, no room to think about what she’s lost. It also prevents the person she’s speaking to from getting a word in, from talking about something she would rather not talk about, from mentioning Rachel.

The modern way to grieve is to talk about it, to let yourself cry and scream and wail. My counselor said we must talk. And I tried, that long, long first year after Rachel was killed, to talk about what happened, to express my sadness, to verbalize our loss, to own my despair. But Dad refused to listen and Mom would cut me off, change the subject, and if I pushed it she would start to cry and leave the room.

I gave up. I felt as if I was torturing her and I became thoroughly sick of myself, of my neediness. In talking about it, I’d been seeking forgiveness, absolution from the feeling that Mom and Dad blamed me for what happened. But I was asking the impossible, I soon real¬ized. Of course they blamed me—for my cowardice, for my escape, for my having lived. We all knew that if one of their daughters had to die, it should have been me.

And I no longer believe that there is any better way to cope with bereavement. There is just a shitload of pain to carry—a permanent and dreadful burden—and talking about it doesn’t remove that load or make it any lighter. Rachel died in the most horrific way imagin ¬able. Words are useless against the harsh truth of that. Rachel is dead. She is gone forever and we will never again see her lovely face, never again hear her music. She is dead.

Why we should need to wallow in this reality, relive it again and again, poke and prod and examine it until our eyes are bleeding, our hearts crushed with the horror and inconceivable sadness of it, is be¬yond me. It cannot possibly help. Nothing can help. If Mom needs to be stoic, to pretend that she is fine, to hide her despair behind a transparent veil of crisp efficiency and businesslike conversation, then that’s okay by me. It seems as good a way as any to go on with her diminished life.

I press my forefinger into the small circular scar above my knee. It’s the only physical evidence I have of the night Rachel was killed, the only physical injury I suffered. The wrong girl died that dreadful day. And though I can’t actually wish that I’d died instead of Rachel—I am nowhere near brave enough to be a martyr—I know too well that the better sister died.

Read the Reviews!

“Beautiful Malice is a book that is revealed in layers, perfectly timed and paced until the very last page."

--There's A Book

"This is a fantastic psychological thriller about love, death, pain, friendship, betrayal, loss and strength."

--The Tales Compendium

Rebecca James was born in Sydney and spent her twenties teaching English in Indonesia and Japan. She currently lives in Armidale, Australia, with her partner and their four sons.

You can visit Rebecca online at www.rebeccajamesbooks.com.


Tracee said...

This book sounds fantastic!

Dorothy said...

Sounds like a wonderful book!