this is a brisk little family drama/psychological suspense novel that all takes place on a blizzardy christmas day in the suburbs of detroit. holly and her husband eric oversleep on christmas morning, feeling the effects of their festive drinking the night before. holly wakes up with the phrase Something had followed them home from Russia running through her brain, and eric rushes off to the airport to pick up his parents, leaving holly alone in the house with their 15-year-old daughter tatiana (tatty) who they adopted from russia when she was just a baby girl. tatty is cranky and sulking, which holly writes off as teenage punishment for their not having had a “proper” family christmas morning, and she tries to engage tatty in the preparations for the holiday gathering that will be taking place at their house, preparations which are already running well behind.
as the hours goes by, it starts to snow, and tatty begins to behave oddly—changing her clothes and her attitude at the drop of a hat, and although holly tries to draw tatty out, she becomes increasingly frustrated by her daughter’s changeable mood swings and frazzled by all the work she still has ahead of her. the snowfall becomes a blizzard, and one by one, the guests call to cancel, leaving the two women alone as the outside world is erased by the deepening snow. eric calls to say that his mother has taken ill, and that they have become trapped at the hospital by the blizzard, and with that, holly and tatty’s isolation is complete.
tatty drifts in and out of her room all day—sometimes cheerful and helpful and sometimes downright frightening with her glares and ominous pronouncements. while she is off sleeping or otherwise avoiding her mother, holly finds herself drifting into memories of the long and difficult adoption process that brought tatty into their lives, and several strange and dark situations that do not seem to be directly connected to tatty, but which contribute to the stifling and spooky tone the book begins to develop. holly also ruminates on what she sees as her own shortcomings as a wife, a mother, and a writer, while that same phrase keeps stubbornly drifting through her head: Something had followed them home from Russia. as time ticks by, and the tension between mother and daughter escalates, holly begins to be more honest with herself, and she scratches away the surface of memories she has long subsumed in half-truths to get to the meaning of the mysterious phrase, and the truth about her beloved tatty.
this is a disorienting and claustrophobic literary thriller with an increasingly-unreliable narrator and elements of the horror, family mystery, dark fairytale, and psychological suspense genres that escalates into a satisfying twist ending that i won’t spoil here. it is also an incredibly fast read, which might be why i only gave it three
stars cats—just because i felt that this book and i barely got to spend any time together, unlike holly and tatty did. so we’ll call it a 3.5, and i do recommend it as an example of psych suspense done well, but if you are a fast reader, have something else on deck and ready to go.