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The Eighth Girl


The Eighth Girl

I must admit that I was a bit intimidated going into this review. Mind you, I have decades of experience reading psychological thrillers to the point where it takes a lot to surprise me. However, my many years as a reader and huge fan of this genre put me nowhere near the impressive curriculum vitae that Maxine Mei-Fung Chung brings to the table. She is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and clinical supervisor. In other words, she can pretty much create any character she wants you to believe in, while already fully understanding them much better than anyone else does.

Chung’s debut novel, THE EIGHTH GIRL, is about a young woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder; she has multiple personalities vying for control of the “host” body. From the title alone, it is easy to see that whoever the eighth personality is will play a central role in the book. Having eight different personalities also alerts readers that there may be more than one untrustworthy narrator and to be careful of what you believe or interpret as the story rolls along.

"THE EIGHTH GIRL is an addictive novel that reads like a binge-worthy television show and is well worth the escapism we all desire during these uncertain times."

The host body is 26-year-old Alexa Wú, who has suffered much trauma in her young life --- including the death of her mother and subsequent rape at the hands of her now-widowed father. Despite all of this, Alexa is a talented photographer who has just received her first real opportunity to take on a job as assistant to a major photographer in London. That is, as long as some of her other personalities don't screw it up for her.

The chapters jump between Alexa and her new therapist, Daniel Rosenstein, who she sees twice a week. Upon meeting with Alexa and getting a rundown of her life, he is able to tally a handful of different personalities that she knows about or has shown to him during a session. They range from nine-year-old Dolly to a very serious 32-year-old, Oneiroi. We also learn about a darker set of personalities that Alexa refers to as the Fouls. There is one simply known as the Runner that she has no control over, and at least one “outcast” personality named Flo, who may exist separately to her current being. If you've seen the classic made-for-TV movie Sybil with Sally Field or the cable program “United States of Tara” with Toni Collette, this all will make much more sense to you.

One of Alexa’s best friends is Ella, though their relationship becomes strained throughout the course of the novel. Ella is now working at a local gentleman's club, and Alexa does not approve. To stay close to her and keep an eye on her, Alexa starts dating the bartender there. Everything is pretty much what you would expect from a seedy business that exploits women --- until Alexa begins to suspect that there may be something else going on. The owner of Electra, an egomaniac named Navid, is a fairly reprehensible character, especially since he not only is taking advantage of Ella, but is possibly trafficking underage girls from Asia as well as acting as both pimp and pornographer for them.

None of this sits well with Daniel, and he becomes concerned about how Alexa and some of her personalities may handle it. He finds himself obsessing more and more about her that he actually looks forward to going on a vacation for a few weeks and not having to see her. He needs his own form of work-life balance, especially since he still deeply grieves the loss of his wife to cancer not that long ago. Unfortunately, the trip with his girlfriend turns out to be quite stressful, and he comes back to a very disturbed Alexa. As their sessions get almost hostile, Daniel begins to fear for his own safety and that of his patient.

THE EIGHTH GIRL is an addictive novel that reads like a binge-worthy television show and is well worth the escapism we all desire during these uncertain times. Chung clearly knows her stuff, and it is best to just follow along with the narrative than try to figure out what is real, what is true, and what may be part of some fantasy. I hope to see more from this talented author in the near future.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 3, 2020

The Eighth Girl
by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung