“One of Us” by Kylie Kaden is a domestic thriller focused on the residents of a gated community. It follows the emotional lives of two families – particularly the women in them – as long held frustrations explode and lead to violence. Kaden makes familiar themes into a fresh and absorbing story and a great reading experience.
Gertie and Ed have never entirely fitted into the wealthy enclave of Apple Tree Creek. They won their house in a raffle, and simply don’t have the disposable income of many other residents. Gertie’s a stay at home mum, often ruffled and perhaps sinking into middle age and parenthood a little too comfortably.
Despite their occasional unease with the environment they’ve found themselves in, Gertie and Ed enjoy a happy and solid marriage. Until, with no warning, Ed announces that they need a break and leaves Gertie with their three children while he accepts an overseas posting.
Meanwhile, only a few streets away, Rachael is glossy and successful, and hugely pregnant. She finds her husband has cheated on her yet again. She should leave, really she should. And yet there are so many reasons to stay.
A chance encounter leads the two to develop a strong friendship. It’s a support to both of them as their lives start to crumble. And they’ll really need that support when one of their husbands is violently attacked. In the closely monitored community, it’s clear that no strangers visited the estate that night. The attacker must be someone from this small and supposedly safe community.
There isn’t a strong sense of place in the novel. We’re told that Apple Tree Creek estate is in Sydney, but if not for that, I might well have placed it somewhere in the US. Perhaps it’s because I associate the idea of gated communities so much more strongly with the US. Perhaps it’s a by product of the stifling, insular atmosphere that Kaden develops for the community. Either way, it contributes to the sense of a community separate from the rest of the world.
Kaden deals with some very sensitive and emotive issues in this novel, and handles them with delicacy and tact. There are not only the issues Gertie and Rachael have to deal with in their marriages; there are teenagers, porn, screen use problems, abuse of technology, special needs kids and the general pressures of parenting. Kaden bundles these together in a way that many readers will recognise: there’s never just ONE problem to handle at a time, is there?
The climatic, violent attack is foreshadowed in the prologue, but you almost forget about it for a while. Kaden draws you so strongly into the emotional and family lives of her characters that you become absorbed by them, and don’t focus on what’s coming.
I found the gradual reveal of the extent of the problems in Rachael’s marriage both credible and handled with considerable sensitivity. Gertie’s journey to re-frame her life without her husband was realistic and very engaging. These two are the heart of the novel, and most readers will empathise strongly with both of them. Many will recognise at least some of the problems they’re handling.
This is a strong thriller, but also a strong exploration of relationships. The particular focus on long term relationships and how to know whether – and when – to walk away is an interesting angle that many readers will appreciate. The believable characterisations are also a huge strength.
“One of Us” is likely to appeal to quite a broad range of readers, and few will be disappointed. It’s an absorbing and memorable novel.
Copy courtesy of Pantera Press (2022)
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading One of Us by Kylie Kaden. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .