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'Mrs. March' is the eerie, suspenseful read you need right now

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mrs. March, a debut novel by Virginia Feito. But it sure wasn’t the tense, unnerving, Hitchcockian experience it turned out to be.

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The titular protagonist -- consistently referred to by her married title, even during flashbacks to her childhood -- is the wife of a best-selling novelist. She lives an Upper East Side life, hosting parties to celebrate her husband’s accomplishments. The novel’s atmosphere and Mrs. March’s mannerisms seem thoroughly mid-century, with images of silver cigarette cases and mint green gloves. But then there’s a random mention of a Rubik’s cube, which we assume puts it somewhere in the 1980s.

That’s just one of the mysteries that unspools through the course of this book. Mrs. March learns early on that the protagonist in her husband’s newest novel is modeled on her. Then she realizes that the character is a prostitute often referred to as “wretched” and “unlovable.” That leads Mrs. March down a rabbit hole of suspicion, paranoia and outright psychosis.

Feito deftly controls the pace and tenor of the story, drawing us deeper and deeper into Mrs. March’s insecurities. Then she ever so carefully ratchets up the tension. Mrs. March is obsessed with appearances, with impressing her husband’s colleagues and being the perfect mother to their son, Jonathan. But as her self-doubt grows, her grip on reality fades, and we’re left in an unnerving limbo between truth and fiction.

Fans of Shirley Jackson will love this novel. It’s an excellent example of literary suspense that’s perfect for this reading season. And I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Before coming to KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Eagle, where she covered schools and a variety of other topics. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.