The Playground by Jane Shemilt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Disturbing and more sad than creepy. Or at least, not "horror" creepy, but more "people can be terrible" creepy. But people can also be good. Oh, people.
So: it's about a lot of things. But a mystery. Let's say it's a mystery, a murder mystery, and there are many clues as to what is happening and what is going on.
But it's also a look at the lives and loves of three very different couples, and the hidden and secret lives of children.
So: three couples, one pretty well off where the mother (Eve) has created the type of family and family experience she wanted for herself as a child. Which means that there's a big backyard that is wild and she gives the kids (11, 6, and 2) freedom to go and be themselves. Others would say, Eve isn't careful enough. Isn't watchful enough.
Then there is the dual professional couple, so busy with their professional lives they barely have time for each other but make sure that their daughter Izzy is always the center of their lives.
Lastly is the struggling family: he's a semi famous author, famous enough to impress everyone but not enough to pay the bills. They are kept financially afloat by the wife, but no one acknowledges that; she is also from Zimbabwe, and there's a bunch of stuff to unpack about the relationship that neither quite admits. Their kids are 11 and 9.
They come together because of the kids, and while we know something bad is going to happen, there is much of how "picture perfect" the friendships become: home made meals in that magical backyard of Eve's, the children all getting along, eventually even a joint trip to Greece. Beautiful images.
Images are not the truth.
There are fissures, issues, some of which the reader knows because the story is told from various viewpoints so we can see a forest when all those adults and children and the trees. Let's just say ... their is adult unhappiness and too much drinking and flirting with other people's spouses. There is a belief that children are innocent and so clues are missed about what is and isn't going on with the children.
Do not read this book if dead children is a deal breaker.
By the end: this is disturbing and sad. And you figure out some things before the characters, and others will surprise you. But this is also about surviving and renewal and moving forward for those who are still left.