Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar
Rachel Waring, star of Wish Her Safe at Home, is a middle-aged woman with a fairly innocuous existence who inherits an old mansion from a great aunt in a city not her own. As soon as she sees it, she falls in love: with life, with art, with romance itself, and even with the imagined presence, of sorts, of a man who lived in the house years before her own birth. For the first time, she is incredibly happy. She buys herself nice clothes, splurges on gourmet foods, and gives her full attention to beauty in all of its forms.
Rachel’s enthusiasm and joy was contagious to this reader, who wanted nothing but for those feelings to grow and to remain hers forever. But, as Rachel’s spirits soar on, it becomes uncomfortably clear that something isn’t quite right. It becomes clear in the way that other characters interact with her, in the way that their motivations become increasingly suspect, and in the growing unpredictibility of her actions. Soon, we know, something terrible must either happen or come to light…and there is nothing for the reader to do but sweat, bite the inside of one’s cheeks, and brace for the inevitable crash that will end Rachel’s delusions, hoping she’ll survive the impact.
I was amazed by Benatar’s ability to create a character who is so easy to inhabit, and yet is so vulnerable to the scrutiny of outsiders’ rationality. This story has been compared with the real-life tale of the Beales of Grey Gardens, and the comparison is warranted. However, it also stands alone on the merit of Benatar’s writing and Rachel Waring herself, a character who is just as real as the Beales.
Discomforting to read, in the best of ways.