By Lorraine Duffy Merkl
If you’ve ever wished your ex (and his new love) dead, you can live vicariously through Renée Shafransky’s heroine in her newly released whodunit, Tips for Living (Lake Union Publishing). Nora had lived with renowned artist, Hugh, for eleven years before he asked her to get married. It was bad enough that he cheated on his new wife, and even more painful when his young mistress, Helene, got pregnant—while for months, Nora had been trying and failing to conceive.Once the ink was dry on the divorce decree, Nora moved to a beach town on Long Island to begin anew, taking a writing job at the local newspaper. For some inexplicable reason, Hugh and his new spouse, Helene moved there too. Shortly thereafter, the May/December couple was found dead.Before the murders took place, Nora had admitted she would prefer to live on the planet without the man who did her wrong. After the deed was done, her best friend Grace asked her if she felt guilty about her homicidal thoughts, to which Nora admitted, “No.”The cops swooped in on Nora, faster than you can say, “You have the right to remain silent.” Did Nora do it? Even she’s not sure, since Nora had been known to do some wacky stuff while sleepwalking.She gives herself the benefit of the doubt and spends the rest of the novel looking for clues as to whom else may have held a grudge against her former husband and his young, hot wife.If you’re one of those forgive-and-forget-move-on-let-it-go types, this book is not for you. If, like me, schadenfreude is your middle name, you will not be able to put it down.Not only does Nora get to see revenge enacted, but in her fact-finding missions, she gets the satisfaction of discovering that Hugh had not exactly found true blue love.This was a fun, page-turning read where, before I knew who the killer was, I was hoping it was either a somnambulant Nora and she gets away with it, or someone else, which means Nora is off the hook, yet still gets the gratification of retaliation by proxy.The only sobering, all-too-real moment, was in the beginning of the story when one evening, Nora sneaks down the beach and through the wooded area behind the home of Hugh and Helene with the sole purpose of spying on them with the help of her aunt’s opera glasses: Helene in shorts and Hugh’s oversized shirt, sharing wine with her husband while snuggling on the sofa. Nora knows just how comfy Helene is resting in the crux of Hugh’s strong arm. Why was she being so masochistic, Nora wondered. Had they not hurt her enough? And there she was asking for more?Some of us know how that feels. Of course, social media makes it easy to stay abreast of what’s doing with an ex. But, even without the benefits of photo postings and play-by-play updates, there’s gossip, and, of course, the accidental (or sometimes accidentally on purpose) street meet.I worked with a woman who put out an All Points Bulletin (or APB in cop talk) on her ex. When a phone call from a friend informed her that the guy had taken his new love to what he and my coworker used to refer to as “our bar,” she had a meltdown in the office. Someone else I knew keyed her former boyfriend’s car when she saw his new partner going into his house using her own key. I once got off a bus when I spied my former crush and his girlfriend, in order to follow them two blocks. If they had not headed down to the subway, who knows how long the journey might have lasted. So entranced was I by the way they interacted as a twosome, that I did not realize how close I’d gotten to them, or how embarrassed I would have been if he’d turned around and seen me.How could we torture ourselves like this? Easy. A cursory Google search offers trained psychologists’ words of wisdom such as: we have a lack of impulse control; it’s part of the process of getting past a relationship; or we have an anxiety/low self-esteem combo platter.But one doesn’t need a degree to figure out that what those of us who have done what could be called benign stalking really want is the person back in our lives—any way we can get them. Even if they are viewed through a window like Hugh and Helene, where our targets seem like characters on a TV show.Nora’s advice in Tips for Living, which is also the name of her newspaper column, is, “if things don’t turn out the first time, try again,” to which I could add: hope your exes stay alive, so when they reverse stalk they will see you’re living well, which is really the best revenge.
—Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels Back To Work She Goes and Fat Chick, for which a screenplay is in the works. To learn more about her work, visit lorraineduffymerkl.com or follow her on Twitter at @FATCHICKauthor.