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Monday, March 4, 2024

Review: The Collective

Part of my bid to clean out neglected (see: old) ARCs from my Kindle - I recently bookmarked some of the suspense titles I had languishing where I can score audiobook copies via one of my library cards.  Next up on the hit parade of this challenge is The Collection by Alison Gaylin, a book I was very excited to read when it was released back in 2021 we are.  Holy crap y'all, this book was a RIDE!

Camille Gardner is a woman spiraling. Four years ago her 15-year-old daughter, Emily, went to a frat party with a boy and was found barely alive, raped, abandoned on a cold night in the woods near the exclusive private college. On her deathbed Emily tells her mother that the boy, Harris Blanchard, is the one who did this to her. When Emily dies there's a trial and Blanchard's white, privileged, monied parents buy their son's innocence by smearing Emily's name. 

Camille's marriage disintegrates, therapy gets her nowhere, and Harris Blanchard continues to live his best life, even receiving a prestigious humanitarian award from his university.  Camille attends the event and, naturally, there's a wee bit of a kerfuffle.  It's after that very public meltdown that a mysterious woman passes Camille a business card - a private Facebook support group where women share their grief and rage over the death of their children.  It's from that group that Camille gains entry into The Collective, a splinter group on the dark web who spill out their darkest fantasies against the people they feel are responsible for the death of their children. Camille thinks it's role playing, a twisted form of therapy that is actually helping her get out of bed in the morning - and then she comes to the terrifying realization that The Collective is not mere role playing.  The Collective are vigilantes.  A truth that Camille is realizing far too late...

This is most definitely a book you need to prepare yourself for prior to reading because Gaylin practically holds the reader's head under the water that is Camille's grief and rage.  It drips off the page. It's in the crevices between the sentences and smeared in the margins. You wonder how Camille is getting through her days, only to realize that it's her grief and rage that are propping her up.  It's smothering to the point of suffocation and one of the more emotional stories I've ever read.  It's just that the emotion here is blind hatred and rage.

Stories about vigilantes seldom have any heroes, and that's certainly the case here.  As the bodies start dropping it's hard to feel sorry for the victims who definitely get what they deserve in an eye-for-an-eye sort of way.  The people you do feel sorry for are the ones who make the mistake of crossing The Collective. People who step out of line and threaten the group's ability to exist and operate in the shadows.  This makes Camille an eventual problem because while, in the beginning, she does follow assignments and instructions with blind obedience, her curiosity gets the better of her. That's when she discovers how much danger she truly is in.

I'll be honest and say I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the ending.  What I do recognize is that it pushes the book firmly into thriller territory and it also features one hell of a twist. Y'all the twist is SO. GOOD!  Is it a happy, sunshine ending?  Honestly? No. But it's not like the author was making promises that there was going to be one. The raw emotion in this story, the depiction of rage, grief and hatred - to expect skipping through a wildflower strewn meadow at the end and Camille finding some peace would be unrealistic for the story the author is telling. Gaylin lays zero groundwork for this kind of thing, so it's not like I felt that I, as the reader, was being lied to, manipulated, or that a promise was broken.

It's a dark, and in many ways, challenging read.  There's a lot of unpack in this one, landing it on my short-list for thrillers that would make a dynamite book club read.

Final Grade = A


azteclady said...

Wow, an A!

Ten years ago, I would have gobbled this one up and come back here to talk about it. Damn not being able to read angst anymore!

Whiskeyinthejar said...

I've never heard of this one and it sounds amazing! Definitely putting on the tbr and going to try and get one my book clubs to read it, I love when stories like this get people talking.

Wendy said...

AL: I'm an angst junkie and even I found this difficult to read - surely a sign of how well the author writes. So much rage and grief - it's A LOT.

Whiskey: I've read three books by Gaylin now and they've all been so very good (What Remains of Me is probably my favorite so far - a #metoo book before we knew of #metoo). I need to work my way through the rest of her backlist.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

Well that's immediately going on the the too, thanks for rec!

Amy said...

Wow, the rage in this was beyond palpable. It was everywhere. That being said, finished it in less than a day. And now I'm scoring up more Gaylin books. She and Frieda have became must-read authors for me. Thanks for the review!