“Some men lash out and leave marks, the black eyes and broken noses that send women to the emergency rooms and from there to the kindly social worker and the battered women’s shelter. But the real devils are the ones who hide the traces, who practice constant psychological abuse until the woman is all but destroyed.”
Written by Darcey Bell and published in 2017, A Simple Favor follows widow and stay-at-home Mommy blogger Stephanie, who is asked a seemingly simple favour by her best friend, Emily. Emily asks her to pick up her son after school one day, but when Emily never shows up to collect her son from Stephanie’s house, Stephanie knows that something is terribly wrong – Emily would never leave Nicky, no matter what the police say. Terrified, Emily reaches out to Emily’s husband, Sean, offering emotional support. It’s the least she can do for her best friend. But then, she and Sean receive shocking news: Emily is dead. As Stephanie seeks to uncover the truth, she must dig deeper into Emily’s secret past. Things aren’t as simple as she once thought.
This following post is a review of only the book. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
The story is told in three parts through three narratives: Stephanie, Emily, and Emily’s husband, Sean. Because of this, the story goes back and forth, re-telling parts of the story to reveal the truth behind certain scenes and character’s actions, transforming a straightforward and simple plot into one more layered and twisted.
It is a story about lies and manipulation, led by two very different characters: Emily is powerful and confident, whilst Stephanie is weak and pathetic. They both have secrets in their pasts, but they’ve obviously dealt with their situations in very different ways. But because their characters are such polar opposites, neither are really likeable. Emily is deceptive and uses Stephanie to her advantage, whilst Stephanie is a complete pushover. And neither of them redeem themselves in the end, so it’s difficult to be engaged by their actions.
The main twist is an obvious one but I still didn’t see it coming, so the plot is developed quite well. However, it doesn’t stand out from other female-led thrillers and it all goes downhill after things are explained. After more weird twists and a lack of a decent conclusion, it seems like the plot spent more time trying to shock than make the characters worth rooting for.
But what I did like about the story is the three different perspectives on motherhood. Stephanie talks about how it changes you as a person, the lack of sleep, and the loneliness. She also discusses the division between working moms and stay-at-home moms, which will always be a heightened debate between mothers. Emily then talks about the love that she felt for Nicky when he was born: the shock, the sentiment. And then finally, Sean talks about how Emily fell in love with Nicky and out of love with him. He shows a man’s side to parenting that is often missed out on. He talks about how he misses the warmth, affection, and mutual respect with his wife.
All three perspectives are very relatable and so interesting to see being explored, but it’s such a shame that these conversations are so sparse and only used to get to know the characters a little better before the story gets back to the less interesting mystery. If these conversations around ‘honest parenting’ were more frequent and linked into the story better than this would definitely have given the book a unique standpoint. Unfortunately, the characters just don’t have that much depth to them in the end.
A Simple Favor was adapted into a film in 2018, which you can watch the trailer for below: