A Review: “The Dilemma” by B.A. Paris

What can I say about this psychological thriller? I guess, I’ll preface this review and say that I did not love this book. Told between the perspective of Livia, a mother of two grown children, and Adam, her weary husband, the book is based almost entirely during Livia’s 40th birthday party — one that she has dreamed of as a replacement for the dream wedding she never had. This couple seems to have a happy marriage, but we learn that they married at a young age when Livia got pregnant unexpectedly as a teenager. Her parents disowned her as a result, and she hadn’t seen or heard of them since. But she hoped they would come to her 40th birthday party, thinking enough time had passed to heal old wounds. In typical B.A. Paris fashion, Livia is a very insecure woman who is very dependent on her husband. She doesn’t work, while Adam makes a humble living as a furniture carpenter.

Adam wants to give Livia everything she could ever possibly want after not treating her the best in the early years of their marriage. He wasn’t enthused after learning of her pregnancies and wasn’t present when their second child, Marnie, was born. Because of these mishaps, Adam has a strained relationship with their eldest, Josh, although he tried to make up for the past by being a more present father for Marnie. In the first few chapters of the book, Adam can barely hold a simple conversation with his son, while Josh seems to walk on eggshells, afraid any slight mishap might upset his father. From what I gathered, Adam held Marnie on a high pedestal and unfairly compared his two children.

Marnie, a student at university, is away studying abroad in Hong Kong during the party, but she plans to surprise Livia by coming home early. She tells Adam of her plans, and he arranges her flights. Livia is not excited about the idea of seeing her daughter, despite having not seen her for months. She thinks Marnie is coming home a few days after the party, and even asks her not to come. This is the psychological part of the book that drives most of the plot. Livia knows a secret about Marnie that she has yet to tell Adam. This secret is one she has known for months, and she thinks it will ruin their entire lives, including their friendships. Meanwhile, Adam is devastated after learning of a plane crash that killed everyone on board — a plane that could have potentially been the one Marnie was flying home on. Afraid to ruin his wife’s dream 40th birthday, he keeps everything bottled up inside as he obsesses over finding out if Marnie was on that plane while also trying to appear happy and supportive throughout the party.

Adam and Livia have a tight-knit circle of friends. Although these characters aren’t very fleshed out, I appreciated having some semblance of an outside world other than the inner monologues of the two main characters. Each chapter takes turns between their perspectives, sometimes going over the same event but told in the other person’s eyes. It was very repetitive and annoying, dragging out scenes that didn’t even matter much in the end.

My Verdict: “The Dilemma” by B.A. Paris is Not Worth Reading

What I couldn’t stand about the book was that it was based entirely on people not talking to each other. I’ve only been married for three years, but I can tell you, that married couples tell each other everything. It’s one of the most important parts of the relationship. I could somewhat understand Adam trying not to worry his wife over bad news without knowing whether it was true, but I couldn’t understand Livia being that insecure about her husband and his motivations, while also keeping such a huge secret from him. Just the fact that she made such judgments about her daughter without even confronting Marnie about it made me wonder just what kind of mother she was. I know if my mom thought that I was in trouble or hanging with the wrong crowd, she would talk to me about it to prevent me from making any sort of huge, life-altering mistakes.

There are some other things that happen with Marnie that I don’t want to say in case you do pick up this book. But just be warned that the plot may not be entirely believable. For one, the party lasts from about 7 pm to 3 am the next morning. I find it hard to believe that 40-somethings with children would hang around that long for a birthday party. I’m sorry, but I’m 32, and I wouldn’t even do that. Everybody knows when there is a big party like that, you come say hi to the hosts and the birthday girl, you eat some dinner and maybe some dessert, show your face for a reasonable amount of time, and then you leave. Each hour was accounted for, told through the eyes of both Livia and Adam. I got so fed up with it, I just wanted the party to be over with.

Eventually, both secrets do come to light at the end of the book, but unfortunately, this plays out over 40 pages! Livia thinks Adam knows her secret, and Adam thinks Livia knows his. The miscommunication at this point in the book was so frustrating. Once Livia knows Adam’s secret, she goes off the rails. I was much more sympathetic towards Adam’s character than Livia’s. First of all, what adult woman dreams up her 40th birthday party to make up for her wedding? Wouldn’t a vow renewal be more appropriate? I chalked it up to the fact that Livia is insecure and likes being the center of attention, and she probably wanted a bunch of gifts just for her.

The book is about 340 pages, but easily could have been trimmed. I found myself skimming some of the pages, especially Livia’s obsessive need to know where Adam was every second. Out of all of B.A. Paris’s characters, I think Livia might be the worst.

Here is an excerpt from Livia’s perspective I found particularly annoying. After opening her birthday gifts from everyone, she wants to give Adam a gift, too:

“The wonderful thing is that, after tonight, this need for a special day, which came about because I never had the wedding I dreamed of, will finally be out of my system. Thanks to everyone here, I’ll have lived my dream. But the person I have to thank most is Adam. He never told me to let go of my dream, or told me that it was unattainable or stupid or selfish or unreasonable, or any of the other things he could have said. He always encouraged me, supported me, championed me.” I turn to Adam. “You’ve given me so much, and now it’s my turn to give something to you.” I walk over to one of the large plant pots and slide out the large brown envelope I hid under it earlier. “This is for you, my love.”

As Adam takes it, I detect a fleeting panic in his eyes and I feel terrible. I knew he’d hate having to open it in public, but I’ve gone ahead anyway because I want all our family and friends gathered here tonight to know I’m not completely selfish, that I’ve thought about Adam too, that his party is also for him. But it’s not, I realize. The fact that I want them to believe it shows I’m only thinking about myself, about how I will look.

One thing I did like about this book was that despite everything that happens, Adam and Livia seem to come out stronger in the end. B.A. Paris tends to write about twisted marriages, but this couple’s relationship is healthier than other characters in Paris’s other books. If you’ve read this book, let me know what you thought of it. Was it as frustrating to read for you as it was for me?

I’m sorry this post is a bunch of complaints. I hate writing book reviews like this, but I also feel strongly about books, and I know they can be expensive, so if I can help someone not waste their money, I think it’s worth posting these types of reviews.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful December! Thanks so much for reading!

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