Survive the Night – Riley Sager

Is Charlie in the car with a serial killer?

In a desperate need to return home to Ohio from her New Jersey college Charlie decides to use the ride share board and meets Josh, a campus employee. In a haze of grief Charlie might’ve accepted a ride with the Campus Killer. 

I was quickly on board with Riley Sager’s new psychological thriller because even though the premise is a little hard to swallow, I was down with the story *I thought* it was telling. Due to an earlier tragedy in Charlie’s life she is stuck in escapism and this causes an heartbreaking decision that continues on the pain in her life. This is the state Charlie is in when she decides to accept Josh’s offer. 

“It’s a Russian doll of remorse. Guilt tucked into guilt that she’s ruining the only thing that has yet to be ruined.” (13)

I think some readers can be too harsh towards protagonists in thriller/horror books (any media really) and don’t allow them to make bad decisions. Humans are deeply flawed and in dire situations can make quick judgements that end up being fatal. There’s also another heartbreaking layer as Charlie believes she deserves what is happening to her, which only leads to more *choices*. So I thought this was a story about how grief and guilt can be cyclical, pain begetting pain, making Charlie’s choices in an odd way logical (in her mind). 

This is the fourth book I’ve read by Riley Sager, so I’m definitely a fan. I think he’s just really good at constructing thrillers so that even if everything doesn’t gel I’m still left having a good time. Sager’s good at leaving you with a high note on the way out the door. A twist that really punches you in the gut. 

So it saddens me to say that there might’ve been one twist too many in Survive the Night. I really liked the cat & mouse game that was the majority of this book and thought it was interesting that Sager was tackling a more simplistic story. Just two people in a car trying to stay one step ahead of each other. At least until the first major twist. 

Sager’s books usually have plenty of twists and turns and there’s two major reveals that change the game. The first one was a genuine surprise and I did like it, but sadly it drastically changed the story. Despite its flaws I was digging the story that we were on. The new direction was okay, just not as interesting and suspenseful as what came before it. This major turn also brought to the table many questions about the perspective/motivations of those around Charlie that aren’t satisfying. 

Sadly though, it was the second reveal that I found the most disappointing. Narratively it makes sense, especially since the last section is framed as a cinematic experience, but I found the reveal so bland and milquetoast. And no matter the flaws of Sager’s other books I never found the last reveal to be disappointing before. 

Due to the female protagonist’s obsession with movies, this thriller is weirdly framed like a movie, but doesn’t turn ‘cinematic’ until the first reveal (the beginning of the last act). I think the use of juxtaposition was better utilized in Home Before Dark, which had two different storylines, one coming from a horror memoir. Since movies and books have different goals and means of conveying information I just don’t think this worked well. I know being a cinefile Sager wanted to pay homage to the movies that he loves but the first half still feels like a book thriller. The change just adds more layers than necessary, since there was already plenty going on.

With that said there were some aspects I did like, I just found the whole experience okay with sadly a ‘meh’ ending. This book is getting mixed reviews and I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t make this your first venture into Riley Sager’s work. I would try The Last Time I Lied or Home Before Dark first, because if you don’t vibe with those then I can’t see you liking Survive the Night.

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