The Twisted Thread is the story of Madeline Christopher, a twenty-something teaching intern at the prestigious Armitage Academy, a New England boarding school. In the novel’s expository opening we get to hear all about Madeline’s education and lack of job prospects, her prickly relationship with her mother (who apparently suggested Madeline get some Botox), her equally prickly relationship with her older sister, Kate (an Armitage graduate and the reason Madeline has this job at all), and her thoughts about the year she’s spent at Armitage. All this while she is running during the forty-five minutes she has to herself.
Upon her return to campus, Madeline is shocked to discover the place crawling with cops and EMTs. A student in Madeline’s dorm has died. And not just any girl: Claire Harkness, a girl whose “crystalline beauty and complete disdain for the adults around her” had awed Madeline.
There is a lot going on in this novel and several subplots which add nothing to the book’s central ‘mystery’ – which is what happened to Claire? There are also a million characters, some mentioned in passing and then recalled as essential after the fact. Teachers are called upon for their expertise in French and scrutinized for strange behaviour (of which there is a lot.) Madeline’s sister Kate shows up unannounced, refuses to answer a few questions about this secret Armitage society and then stomps off in a huff – never to be seen again.
Madeline is desperate to figure out what happened to Claire. While comforting a hysterical student in clear view of Claire’s dead and naked body, Madeline realized something was not quite normal with Claire. “It was her breasts. They were full and rigid with veins…” Claire, Madeline figures, has recently given birth. OMG! Where’s the baby!?
The Twisted Thread is an okay book. The back cover calls it a “gripping and suspenseful story in the tradition of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History,” but I respectfully disagree. Although it’s been twenty years since I read The Secret History, that’s a book that has stayed with me. My 15-year-old son just finished reading it and called it “the best book he’s ever read.” I think The Twisted Thread desperately wants to be more than the sum of its parts, but at the end of the day it’s only just a pleasant enough beach read. I doubt anyone will be talking about it twenty years from now.