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The Boy at the Door


The Boy at the Door

Cecilia Wiborg has the perfect life. She’s married to the most desirable man in town, a friend of hers since childhood in Sandefjord, an upscale coastal town in Norway, where they still live. Cecilia and Johan have two daughters who, despite their endless fascination with American makeup tutorials on YouTube, are bright and talented. Cecilia cares for them while Johan travels frequently for work, and also maintains a part-time business as an interior design consultant. The family’s luxurious, newly built home (with interiors designed by Cecilia herself, of course) is the envy of her friends from the tennis club. But all of Cecilia’s carefully constructed luxury and privilege --- her entire image --- is about to be turned on its head.

"Just when you think you might have a handle on the truth, it slips away again, and Dahl will keep you on edge until the very last page."

After her daughter’s swimming lessons, Cecilia is approached by the receptionist at the swimming club. A little boy, Tobias, has been waiting there to be picked up, and the pool is about to close. Could Cecilia take him home with her until his parents can be contacted? At first, Cecilia is reluctant, especially when an investigation of the home where the boy has been living --- with adults he claims are not his parents --- reveals it to be a squat, with the adults nowhere to be found. As time passes, however, and both Cecilia and the social services agency find no leads on a better home for Tobias, the fragile little boy --- who has a tendency toward self-harm and expresses his emotions more easily through drawings rather than words --- begins to find a home in Cecilia’s family as they become fond of him.

But when Tobias’ guardian --- a drug addict named Annika --- is found drowned in the harbor, and when Tobias himself starts asking questions, it becomes clear that there is far more to this story than meets the eye. Cecilia and Annika’s life stories are intertwined in unexpected ways --- and Tobias’ entry into the family’s life might start to expose the cracks in the veneer that Cecilia has worked so hard to construct.

Alex Dahl’s debut novel is written with a sophisticated structure, told through both Cecilia’s and Tobias’ points of view, as well as through the pages of Annika’s letters and diaries. Along the way, both women’s stories vividly illustrate the ways in which one bad decision, one seemingly small lie or misstep, can quickly take on a life of its own and change the course of a life. Dahl, who is half-American and half-Norwegian, writes vividly of the upscale but still insular town of Sandefjord, as well as about settings in more rural Scandinavia and in Poland.

Most accomplished, however, is Dahl’s narrative plot, which certainly keeps readers on their toes, unsure who to trust and what to believe. Just when you think you might have a handle on the truth, it slips away again, and Dahl will keep you on edge until the very last page.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 3, 2018

The Boy at the Door
by Alex Dahl