Book Summary and Analysis |

Fiction | Mystery and Crime

 Summary and Critique of

Harlan Coben’s

The Stranger

by J.B. Feliciton

Copyright©2016 J.B. Feliciton. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.

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Hope is one of the themes throughout the novel. As Adam searches for his wife, he does everything in order to keep up his hope to find his wife alive, even though his hope is defeated in the end.

In The Stranger, Coben also brings together two aspects of the modern America: computer hacking and affluent suburbia residents who allegedly live the American Dream. He interweaves these two facets, creating a fearsome plot with a few antiheroes and a few victims who are not that innocent after all.


1. Hope

Hope is one if the main themes of The Stranger. Adam’s wife goes missing, and she can be dead or alive. For Adam, it is important to believe that there is hope to find Corinne alive. The notion of hope plays vital role in Coben’s The Stranger as it touches readers’ hearts. It also makes the story fascinating and the characters convincing, bringing the emotional layer that make the reader care about the novel’s characters and their fate.


2. Cyber Technology and Lack of Privacy

Coben’s novel addresses the current concerns about advances in cyber technology that can affect people’s family life and privacy. The story is set in the internet-based world and it deals with technological and moral quandaries that people encounter today. Coben did not make up the Fake-A-Pregnancy website. Such sites indeed exist and they sell fake sonograms, “bellies” and fake pregnancy tests. Coben theorizes what would happen if a woman were to use one of these sites to help fake her pregnancy. The novel also depicts individuals and organizations who use the cyber world to invade other people’s privacy.

As the secrets of the novel’s characters become exposed, Coben explores the influence of the internet on people’s lives, as well as the predicament of balancing online privacy against the suspicion that one’s closest family members may be acting immorally.


3. The American Dream

Coben’s novel, The Stranger, explores the idea of the American Dream. The story is primarily set in Cedarfield, a fictional town located somewhere in New Jersey. The town represents American suburbia with its upper-middle class community comprised of families living in cookie-cutter houses. The story relies on the premise that things are not always what they seem and that some people’s comfortable, proper and well-regarded lives are only fairy tales. The residents of the quiet suburban town seem to be living the American dream, but their real lives are far from perfect. In fact, their lives are full of deceit, and any attempt to expose their lies can be very dangerous.

Adam and Corinne’s marriage seems to be nearly perfect but turns out to be filled with dishonesty and secrets. They are not alone. Most of the characters in the novel hide their own secrets behind their self-assured appearances. For example, Heidi Dann’s daughter Kimberly is involved in prostitution; Michaela Siegel’s fiancé had posted a sex tape of her with her ex-boyfriend in order to break up their relationship; Dan Molino’s son is taking performance enhancing drugs in order to receive an athletic scholarship; Bob keeps his financial struggles hidden; and retired detective Michael Rinsky illegally helps Adam with his investigation of Corinne’s disappearance.

Adam and other victims of the Stranger’s exposures are shocked to find out what their loved ones are really doing when no one is watching them. The discovery of their secrets tells the reader that families living in a quiet and seemingly exemplary suburbia are not immune to dishonesty and wrongdoings.

Personally, I find it difficult to agree with the notion that affluence, and a nice house and family represent only the American idea of happy life. The human desire for a better material life, financial security and happy personal relationships does not have nationality. People of every nation want to be financially secure and enjoy a happy family life. As a matter of fact, people dreamt about a financially secure and happy family life long before the US came into existence.

Coben’s book offers an excellent opportunity to re-examine the modern idea of the American Dream and compare it to its original version, which was described by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America. In his book, Adams wrote that the American dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

When Adams wrote his book in 1931, he envisioned the American Dream as the dream of living up to the ethical standards that would reinforce one’s integrity because one cannot have a fulfilling life while going against ethical standards and moral principles. More than 80 years later, Coben’s book illustrates how the idea of the American Dream has gone through a radical transformation, being reduced to the pursuit of financial and material prosperity. Moreover, Coben shows in his book how some people have become willing to forget the original American Dream, to forgo ethical standards and to sacrifice their own integrity for the sake of their pursuit of financial and material prosperity.

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