An avid book nerd, Jennifer Branton loves to share her favorite book finds with her readers.
A Fractured Relationship
This was not the life that Steph dreamed of, she laments in The Apartment by S.L. Grey.
After meeting Mark, twenty something years her elder through an office job at a University, Steph quickly falls for Mark, a recent divorcee who's wife had battled with cancer and a lost a young daughter in a tragic accident that was never explained to her. Steph moves in with Mark, quickly falling pregnant, but she is young and decides to stick it out with Mark and they quickly marry. Their age difference shows as it jabs at their relationship, fractured by Mark constantly comparing his young immature wife to his ex, Odette that he had shared so much more of a deeper connection. Steph is jealous of his friends that she doesn't seem to connect with and feels that he never put as much effort into the relationship with their now two year daughter, Hayden, as he still pines over the death of his daughter with Odette, Zoe.
As tension in the home rises, Steph and Mark find themselves victim of a home invasion where Steph blames Mark for being passive and letting the robbers lead her around the home looking for a safe. She worries they may harm her or her daughter, thankfully they don't and tell the couple to hide in their closet until the next morning.
Steph blames Mark for not fighting back and defending his family as he tries to explain that he did what he thought was best at the time to not aggravate the burglars.
Their marriage is about at a breaking point when the idea of a home swap comes up among some of Mark's friends that have come to visit. Steph looks into a website and finds a home in Paris and emails the owners to talk about the exchange.
Mark tries to tell her their money is still tied up in the recovery of things lost in the robbery and this wasn't the best time, although they are both at their wits end with trying to keep it together and don't feel safe in their Cape Town home.
Getting a response back from the Petits, the family in France, Steph convinces Mark that the family should take the offer and they discuss the details although Mark is convinced they should leave Hayden behind with Steph's parents. Steph is furious and again says that it is because Mark isn't as connected to Hayden as he was to Zoe but they leave for France with Hayden in good hands of Steph's family.
Upon arriving in France, they instantly realize that something isn't right.
There has been no recent response from the Petits. They find the home which is an apartment building that looks condemned. The main hallway is open though and inside the mail box as promised are the keys. Exhausted from their journey, Mark and Steph head up to the apartment and throw open the door, suddenly realizing they have been scammed as the apartment is nothing like the pictures they received. There is no WiFi, windows are secured closed. The building smells of mold, its dirty and musty. There seems to be no other units that are inhabited and upon inspection Steph finds some dirty mattresses across the hall but no sign that anyone has lived in the building for some time.
With no money for a hotel and no way to call out from the building as cell reception was horrible, they find a cafe to use WiFi and contact Mark's friend who was in charge of giving their house keys to the Petits upon arrival. The French couple has never contacted the friend either.
Realizing the one credit card they took on the trip is locked up they are unable to spend any money other than the cash they have on hand which after a few days is quickly running out. Steph does talk to her family to check on Hayden but never mentions the conditions of the apartment- or the mysterious woman they have recently met wandering the attic of the building.
The woman says no one owns the apartment, but they weren't the first ones that were lured there but they have stayed the longest.
Mark starts checking the apartment for personal items and lets out a scream claiming he found garbage bags full of all sort of colors of hair stuffed into the closet; although he throws these things outside before Steph ever lays eyes on them.
The woman from the attic invites herself over that evening and abruptly tosses herself out the window where she later dies. The police think that she was a squatter and inform Steph and Mark that no one lives in this building and are confused as to why they were there. They explain again about the Petits but there is still no email and they have never shown up at the couple's home in Cape Town either.
Desperate to get home, they are on standby to trade back into their plane tickets.
Something about this situation is getting Mark even more upset than he was after the break in. There is something that he isn't telling Steph. Something that he doesn't want her to know. Someone that he doesn't want to tell Steph has been following him all through Paris.
A Psychotic Break
It is true Mark misses his old family and maybe put they before his new relationship. Losing Odette was a blow that he never recovered from but the loss of Zoe is what prevented him from ever getting close to his new daughter, Hayden.
This is something that Zoe knew in her short time still alive. And since coming to Paris, Zoe is letting Mark know that blames him for her death. It is explained that at seven, somehow Zoe had overdosed on pills in the medicine chest and the image of Mark walking with her lifeless body in his arms still tortures him.
This Zoe that is in Paris is aged to be able fourteen years old and he sees her everywhere on the street. She is angry with him for letting her die. Mark eventually makes a call to Odette and mentions something about the odd sneakers he keeps seeing this older Zoe wearing, high tops with Scooby Doo. Odette says that Zoe never had such shoes but she did have shoes with Hello Kitty.
Mark can not out run his showdown with the thing passing for Zoe and the more time they spend in the Paris apartment, more connects back to her. He finds the bags of hair, not realizing until later this too was something tied to his late daughter as she cut the hair off all her dolls in solidarity of Odette starting chemo and saved the hair in bags to be put back on when her mother also had new hair.
After the death of the woman in the attic and Mark and Steph leave Paris for good, the thing passing as Zoe continues to follow the couple back to South Africa and Marks behavior begins to border on scary.
He is angry, seems to be aggressive with Hayden. The thing passing itself off as Zoe keeps telling Mark that if he could find her a new body then she could come back.
Steph wakes one day to find Mark hacking off Hayden's hair as she was sleeping.
Steph has had enough and takes Hayden and flees to her parent's home but Mark doesn't follow. He has had some counseling and Steph, not knowing that its the visions of Zoe driving him mad has had enough of the relationship and plans to seek out a divorce, in the meantime meeting a young man about her age from the security company when he had reported their alarm had gone off several times when they were gone. Nothing was missing, but Steph did report things moved around although the Pettis never arrived.
Through contacting a relator, Steph uncovered some news about the condemed building that it had been passed around as an apartment building where after a man had beaten one of his children and threw himself out the same window where the attic woman had done the same. It was insinuated that the attic woman might have been that child.
Mark later kills his friend that came over to visit and the last section of book is about Steph trying to move on with Hayden.
The book was a really interesting read but I still have some questions it didn't answer for me.
I wanted to know more about the apartment. What if anything did the history have to do with the backstory of several families being lured there that had left after one night? Was this some sort of scam to prey on people that had recently experienced tragedy? How would the poster on the house swap know? Why did going to that place bring out the thing that was posing as Zoe? Was any of that real or did Mark have a mental break after the robbery and have PTSD and invent seeing this alternate version of Zoe that haunted him?
There were a lot of great ideas in this book but I don't feel it ever really came together in the story.
Still it was a chilling and creepy read, but I wanted more explanation if there was any real reason behind the apartment scam or it was just a convenient one last thing to stress the relationship before Mark snapped.
Was there really a supernatural element or was Mark's visions of Zoe all post traumatic stress? Did he really think he was killing to get her a new body?
Take a read of The Apartment and see what conclusions you come to in this novel.