Top positive review
4.0 out of 5 starsDark, Twisted, & Shocking -- Lives up to the Hype!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 13, 2022
Verity opens with author Lowen Ashleigh having a very bad morning. Her mother died the previous week after a year-long battle with colon cancer. Lowen had a difficult relationship with her mother -- "a direct result of my own mother being terrified of me," she relates -- but still brought her to Lowen's apartment and cared for her during the last nine months of her life. Lowen is a sleepwalker and her mother kept her fairly secluded as a child, afraid of what Lowen might be capable of doing during one of many sleepwalking episodes. Now she has left her apartment in New York City for the first time in weeks, summoned to a meeting at her publisher's office by her literary agent, Corey, with whom she was previously in an intimate relationship. Just as Lowen is waiting for a crosswalk light to change, a man steps into the street and is struck by a truck. Lowen is understandably shaken, and the man's blood is splattered on her face and white shirt.
A handsome stranger escorts her into a coffee shop bathroom and literally gives her the shirt off his back. They chat briefly, and Loewn concludes that he "wants to be invisible in this city. Just like me." After all, she moved to New York to become part of the city's invisible millions of invisible residents. Her books have not sold well enough for her publisher to offer her another contract unless she agrees to promote them, something she has refused to do in the past. "I'm so awkward I'm afraid once my readers meet me in person, they'll swear off my books forever," Lowen laments. "That's why I stay home and write. I think the idea of me is better than the reality of me." But another contract was her last hope. She took time off from her writing career believing that her mother would leave her some money. Now, having lived off the advance she received after signing her prior contract, she has learned that she will receive nothing from her mother's estate. And be homeless soon, unless she receives a job offer.
When Lowen arrives at her publisher's office, she is shocked to find the man whose shirt she is wearing is attending the same meeting. He is Jeremy Crawford, husband of Verity, a very successful author who is unable to complete the series of books she was writing. Lowen is being offered a flat fee of seventy-five thousand dollars per book to write the last three volumes in the series, with the first installment due in six months. Lowen is determined to turn down the offer until Jeremy informs her that he selected her because Verity read one of Lowen's books and it was among her favorites. She purportedly told Jeremy that they shared a similar writing style and Lowen was destined to be "the next big thing." Verity has been catastrophically injured in a motor vehicle accident, following the deaths of both of her daughters, Chastin and Harper, leaving Jeremy to raise their young son, Crew, alone. Lowen ultimately agrees to take on the project.
Lowen makes the six-hour drive to the Crawford home in Vermont, listening to the audio version of the first book in the series en route. She is to spend time in Verity's office, reviewing the research and notes she left there in order to assess how best to approach writing the next book. Lowen meets Crew and learns that Verity's condition is extremely serious. She is in a virtually catatonic state -- uncommunicative and unable to care for herself. Caregivers spend the day in the home, with Jeremy managing at night. Lowen soon discovers that Verity's office lacks organization -- her expansive desk is strewn with stacks from end to end with papers and files, and boxes containing more documents line the walls. Clearly, the process of sorting through it all will take much longer than Lowen originally anticipated. As she begins reading Verity's second book, she realizes the "books are from the villain's point of view" and she will need "time to work myself into that mindset while writing." Jeremy claims that he has never read Verity's books because he "didn't like being inside her head."
Author Colleen Hoover recounts Lowen's story via a first-person narrative, with the story really taking off as Lowen attempts to settles into the Crawford home. She is keenly observant and inquisitive about Verity's writing, as well as her family, and quickly finds herself attracted to Jeremy, who is still married to the incapacitated woman being cared for in an upstairs bedroom. Searching through Verity's office, Lowen stumbles upon a manuscript entitled "So Be It." Verity hopes it is an outline for the next book, but it is instead an autobiography drafted by Verity. Reading it is not what she has been hired to do, but she justifies her insatiable curiosity by construing her review of the manuscript as research. "I need to see how Verity's mind works to understand her as a writer." Soon she is absorbed in Verity's descriptions of meeting Jeremy, the development of their relationship and the early days of their marriage, as well as her pregnancies and motherhood. The more she reads, the more frightened of Verity Lowen becomes, especially when events she observes appear to be inconsistent with what she has been told about Verity's condition. Nonetheless, Lowen continues returning to the manuscript to better understand the Crawford family's history, and gain insight into Jeremy and Verity's marriage. But Lowen is playing a dangerous game. Verity's purported autobiography is a dark and disturbing confession of Verity's feelings, motivations, and unspeakably vile acts. Lowen believes the manuscript to be an accurate depiction of Verity's life, and concludes that it "was written by a very disturbed woman -- a woman whose house I currently inhabit."
Hoover ramps up the tension as Lowen becomes entangled in a budding relationship with Jeremy, influenced heavily by what she is reading in the manuscript. Verity's revelations are horrifying, and as Lowen and Jeremy grow closer, he increasingly opens up to her, sharing details of his life with Verity about which Lowen feigns ignorance. Lowen's suspicions about the accident in which Verity was injured grow. Is Jeremy being completely honest with Lowen? Why is he willing to embark on a new relationship with Lowen when his wife, although injured, is still alive? He claims that he cannot move Verity to a care facility because Crew cannot sustain another loss. While Verity is cared for in their home, Crew can spend unlimited amounts of time at her bedside. Lowen now possesses detailed information about the deaths of Jeremy's daughters. Were their deaths really tragic accidents? Is Crew safe?
Hoover's characters are both fascinating and infuriating. The story is related solely from Lowen's perspective. Her childhood was difficult because of her sleepwalking and the way it detrimentally impacted her relationship with her mother. She has achieved modest success as a writer, but because of her discomfort in social situations, her career growth has been stymied. She accepts the offer to write Verity's next three books because she desperately needs the money, but also because it is an opportunity too good to pass up. But she is confused not only by her burgeoning attraction to Jeremy, but the incongruity between what she has been told about Verity's accident and what transpires in the house. Of course, Lowen's feelings and experiences are colored by the information set forth in the manuscript. Interestingly, Hoover has said that even when she depicts Lowen reading Verity's manuscript, readers are "still not fully in Verity’s head because we’re always in Lowen’s perspective, reading something she found. When I write a book from one character’s point of view, I rarely think about the story from the other character’s perspectives. Sometimes it’s necessary for certain scenes, but with this book, it was important for me to feel the confusion and fear Lowen felt. So as the author, I had to be completely blind to what was happening from everyone else's perspectives." Still, as the story progresses, Hoover keeps readers guessing as to how gullible and vulnerable Lowen really is. She believes the manuscript is truthful and accurate, and that Jeremy is not the villain -- if, in fact there is a villain in the Crawfords' story. But could Lowen possibly be opportunistic, calculating, and willing to do anything to be with Jeremy?
Jeremy is equally captivating. He is handsome, charming, successful, and by all outward appearances, a family man who has sustained unimaginable losses who has been able to soldier on only because he has a young son to raise. To be fair, although Verity's prognosis is never affirmatively established, his desire to move on with his life is understandable -- Verity sustained a serious head injury which will, in all likelihood, preclude her from resuming a fully normal life. But was his meeting with Lowen on the street just before the meeting at her publisher's office really just coincidental? Did he intend for her to find the manuscript in Verity's office? Has he been fully aware of its contents all along? About that, Hoover says, "I’m not sure because I was never in Jeremy’s head." In other words, readers can draw their own conclusions, based on the evidence Hoover does present.
And what about Verity? Is she selfishly conniving and evil, as the manuscript suggests? Or is she a blameless grieving mother who was tragically injured in a horrific car accident?
The manuscript provides myriad complications. Lowen debates whether she should discuss it with Jeremy. She doesn't believe he is aware of its existence or content. He claimed he never read Verity's books, after all. Lowen learns that Verity was injured when her vehicle hit a tree, but there were no skidmarks on the pavement. She concludes Verity "either fell asleep or she did it on purpose." Does it matter to Lowen which scenario is accurate? What conclusion has Jeremy drawn about the cause of the accident?
Putting aside the perspective from which the story is told, no aspect of the story or the characters can be accepted at face value. Hoover includes plot twists so shocking and unnerving that Verity, originally published in 2018, continues to be one of the most-discussed psychological thrillers ever written. (There is even a Facebook discussion group devoted to the book, boasting nearly twenty-five thousand members!) The book is fast-paced, engrossing, and extremely entertaining. The story's pace gradually accelerates with each surprising development and breath-taking revelations of the truth or, perhaps, a manipulated version of the truth. The tale careens to a jaw-dropping conclusion that will keep readers thinking, discussing, and debating Hoover's extremely clever and nuanced tale, as well as her deliciously intriguing and morally ambiguous characters (who may prove themselves to be not as ambiguous as originally thought) for a very, very long time. Hoover says she "chose the ending because it’s frightening to me. It’s my biggest nightmare For the darkness in the worlds I create as a writer to somehow" intrude into her real life.
Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for a copy of the book.