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A NOVEL CONCEPT: ‘Someone Else’s Life’ Packs a (Hawaiian) Punch

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By Michael Malone

Someone Else’s Life, a thriller from Lyn Liao Butler, is about Annie, who has recently arrived in Hawaii with her husband and young son, following a frightening incident back in Westchester County. That Annie lived in Westchester is not a random detail; Butler does too. 

A major storm is starting up in her corner of Kauai, and Annie, home alone, gets a knock on the door. A woman’s car broke down on the block, and she is hoping for some shelter to ride out the storm. 

Annie lets Serena in. 

You’re probably thinking, bad idea, but things initially go nicely between Annie and Serena. They’ve had similar lives and have much in common, including a recent spate of frightful incidents. Annie has been lonely in Hawaii. Serena seems to offer just about everything Annie looks for in a friend. 

A few times, Serena brings up details from Annie’s life that she does not recall sharing. Annie wonders if her memory is fading, or if Serena knows stuff she should not know. 

The women talk. They have some wine. They laugh. They cry. They bond. 

Annie’s husband, meanwhile, is stuck at a work site, unable to drive home in the storm. Her son Finn is at her father’s house across the lot. 

Annie repeatedly hints at the scary thing that happened at the Westchester home, involving Finn, but does not initially come out and explain just what went down. 

Annie and Serena hang for hours. The storm gets worse. No one is coming or going. 

Over time, Serena reveals that she and her husband had put an offer on the Westchester house that Annie and her husband ended up buying. It dawns on Annie that Serena did not randomly end up at her Hawaiian home, and she’s not there to make friends. 

Butler writes, “Annie couldn’t deny they had bonded over shared experiences and thoughts. She’d felt close to the younger woman. Her breath hitched as a scary thought entered her mind: Did that mean she was as delusional as Serena?”

More harrowing details come out slowly. Serena often spied on Annie back in New York, wondering how her life would’ve played out had she landed the dream home. Just what happened to Finn is revealed too. He was in the woods with a teen babysitter as Annie dozed on the beach nearby. Serena approached the boy. There was a violent act, and Finn was lucky to escape with his life. 

Annie realizes Serena is downright dangerous. 

Interspersed with the narrative are short “Laptop ANNIE file” chapters. The reader may think they are Annie’s diary entries, but they turn out to be Serena’s notes about Annie. She writes about the dream house: “There it was, the perfect house, tucked away about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Manhattan, in a town that the real estate agent called the ‘hidden gem of Westchester County.’ 

“The house wasn’t huge, only about 1,700 square feet. But it was so well laid out and allowed so much natural sun that it was almost like living outdoors. I love bright houses. You can’t be depressed in a house that lets in so much sunshine.”

Serena later reveals a far more frightening detail. Her and Annie’s sons, in fact, were born on the same day, at the same hospital, and Serena is convinced she brought home the wrong baby, who ended up dying at a very young age. Annie realizes exactly what has brought Serena to Hawaii. 

Butler writes well. I liked that the bulk of the book is essentially set in a single night, with Serena turning up at Annie’s place on page 23, and looming until the very end. Serena is an interesting character, alternately charming and creepy. 

Annie is interesting too. Her murky thought processes give the novel drama, but I would’ve respected the character more if she’d shown a bit more common sense in her interactions with Serena. Of course, she should not have let Serena in in the first place, but one understands why she might have. Yet even after realizing she has let a scary stalker in, Annie does not call the police, instead urging her husband to do so from the road, far from home. 

And this is minor, but Annie, who volunteers in a dog shelter, has a dog named Marley. Marley was the star of Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, so perhaps Butler could’ve come up with another name for the pooch. 

But Someone Else’s Life is a fun read, with both local Westchester tidbits and lots of inviting beaches and landscapes in Hawaii, even with a rainstorm going on. Reading the novel in the middle of a New York winter, the tropical locales hit home.

Local freelance journalist Michael Malone lives in Hawthorne with his wife and two children. 

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