Yes, the title of Kaira Rouda’s new novel Best Day Ever is ironic, for this is the story of no one’s best day. If you are as fascinated by narcissistic psychopaths as I am, you will be spellbound by this story, narrated by a textbook case. Paul Strom is admittedly superior to everyone he encounters and would receive a perfect score on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. He has the perfect life–a younger, wealthy, trophy wife, two strapping young sons, a house in a tiny Columbus, Ohio suburb, and a Lakeside vacation home. If his former employer doesn’t appreciate his brilliance (why he made the agency what it is today!), if his young coworker doesn’t appreciate the advances of this truly exceptional man (stalker!), if former friends think he’d cheat at a game of Euchre (he did), they are the losers.
Unlike Herman Koch’s brilliantly creepy, The Dinner, in which the narrator at first sounds reasonable and the reader experiences that delicious “ah ha” moment when they learn the narrator is not reliable, readers here have no doubt that Paul is full of pathological grandiosity, has no moral compass, and has virtually no emotions or empathy. Unfortunately, or fortunately, narcissists can’t avoid hubris. On their perfect day, Paul and wife, Mia are headed to their Lakeside cottage to spend a romantic weekend alone. Rouda rachets up the suspense by treating readers to Paul’s internal dialog about how he has manipulated Mia who seems to be wasting away from an undiagnosable illness and about how he has to continually check himself to keep things perfect despite his irritation with her, so that he can achieve his ultimate goal for the weekend. Little does he know, Mia has surprises of her own up her sleeve. Short chapters are titled with hours of this one interminable day and keep you reading at breakneck speed.
This novel will appeal to those who enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins’ Girl on the Train, Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, Bonnie Nadzam’s Lamb or nonfiction including Confessions of a Sociopath: Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas, The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, and The Man in the Rockefeller Suite: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal.