The Perfect Mother

by Nina Darnton
Plume, November 2014, $16

It’s the call every mother dreads; the middle- of-the-night message that your child is in trouble. In the case of Jennifer Lewis, her daughter Emma has been arrested for murder while studying abroad in Spain. While Jennifer believes that her daughter can do no wrong, the police, Emma’s defense team, and even her father have their doubts.

When Jennifer rushes to Spain to be by her daughter’s side, it becomes obvious that the picture-perfect view that she has of Emma and their relationship is skewed. Jennifer’s marriage is also in trouble, and she all but ignores her other two children to stay with Emma, even after Emma says that she doesn’t want her help.

The plotline itself is familiar: anyone who has followed the Amanda Knox case will see a very similar story here. What’s different is that the focus isn’t on Emma as much as it’s on Jennifer and how she deals with the fact that her daughter has now shown everyone—through the world media following the case—that their perfect family isn’t perfect.

It’s fascinating to watch Emma manipulate her mother, and to watch Jennifer make excuse after excuse for her daughter as more sordid facts come to light. It’s not hard to understand how Emma learned this talent either—Jennifer is also a master manipulator, most especially of her husband, and of Roberto Ortiz, the private detective in charge of investigating the case for Emma’s lawyer.

It’s absorbing to watch Jennifer’s flawless façade crack; and in fact, I read the book all in one sitting because I was riveted by her actions. While you would expect any mother to help her child in a bad situation, it left me wondering: Was she protecting her daughter or protecting herself?

Vanessa Orr
Teri Duerr
November 2014