Title: The Identical Opposite
Author: Clay Savage
Publisher: Ocean Park Press
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Paula Hickman, chronically depressed, lives with her professor husband, Alan, in a large house. When Anthony Mills, her former boyfriend, who she hasn’t met in twenty-five years, moves into the house opposite with his wife Hannah, Paula is shocked to see that she looks exactly like her.
But no one else seems to think so. They see a vague resemblance, but nothing like what Paula believes and insists is true.
Then Hannah is found murdered on the very night that Paula is found to have attempted to slash her own wrists. Did Paula give in to jealousy and kill Hannah? The jealousy that might have led her to kill her roommate, Emily Jenkins, because she dared express an interest in Anthony. That case was deemed a suicide, but was it Paula’s doing?
The trouble is that Paula’s own memories of that night are fuzzy, and she has no idea what she might have done. She doesn’t think so, but she can’t remember anything. And it doesn’t help that her journal offers glimpses into her worst self.
How can she prove the truth when she has no idea what the truth is? And is Paula the only one to have invented a persona to hide her true self?
Written in the third person omniscient PoV of Paula, a most unreliable narrator. The narrative takes us on a flashback, where we meet Allyson Clements, her boyfriend, Anthony, his younger brother Darius, and Paula’s roommate, a girl called Emily Jenkins, who dies after falling off the terrace of a building.
The book introduces us to the ravages of mental illness. Paula knowingly creates personas of herself to keep herself sane. As she tells us, To be self-invented is to be human.
It also talks about depression and the toll it takes on individuals without making it sound pitiable and pathetic.
The style of the writing is gripping and engaging. The characters are well etched. I liked Jacob Russo for his paternal solicitude towards Paula. At 81, the man lets neither age nor infirmity stand in the way of his support of Paula.
I also liked Paula, and understood the demons that tore at her heart after all that she had been through. The lawyer, Lincoln Childress, also made an impression, not only with his overall persona and dedication to the case, but also with the single anecdote relating to his personal life that makes him less of a caricature, more relatable to us.
I found myself on edge, racing through the pages in my haste to figure out what happens next. The action is plentiful and well described, and the pace just right. The conflict resolution was handled well, albeit a little too swiftly. Bonus points for the completely apt image on the cover.
There were a few mistakes though. In Chapter 31, a character, Valerie, says, Viola, when she needs to say Voila. In Chapter 1, Paula plays a game of Truth or Lie with Alan, twice in the space of a few paragraphs. Then in Chapter 13, Alan reflects that Truth or Lie was a game they played very often. It seems odd that a game that two main characters played that often is mentioned twice in the first chapter, and then forgotten. A serious continuity issue there.
Another time a character is said to have wretched, instead of retched.
The book was about the personas we create to suit our needs and how everybody does it. We learn in the book, Perceptions are often a poor reflection of reality. This is the message at the heart of this book, one that is reiterated constantly.
(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.)