A Flaw in the Design

Award-winning short story writer Nathan Oates (The Empty House) superbly examines the dark side of family bonds in his first psychological thriller, A Flaw in the Design. Oates finely applies the unreliable narrator motif to two characters, keeping the engrossing plot entertainingly off-kilter. Gil Duggan hates his 17-year-old nephew Matthew Westfallen with an obsessive intensity. He remembers Matthew as a nasty child who cursed at his parents, threw outrageous tantrums, hit his nanny and, worse, watched as Gil's daughter nearly drowned in a pool. Now Gil becomes Matthew's guardian when his uber-wealthy parents die in a suspicious car accident. Gil is surprised that his sister, Sharon, who was Matthew's mother, named him to care for her son, given that the two were estranged. Gil, a creative writing professor and a minor novelist, wants to refuse. But the guardianship comes with a hefty stipend that will get him out of debt. Gil moves Matthew to his Vermont home where the brilliant teenager immediately charms Gil's family. Matthew enrolls in high school, simultaneously taking courses at the college where Gil teaches, and he even signs up for his uncle's fiction class.

A Flaw in the Design acutely depicts Gil's mental descent. His determination to prove Matthew is evil, maybe even responsible for his parents' deaths, is balanced by his unreasonable jealousy over his sister's wealth and lifestyle. Oates sharply sculpts Matthew as a young man who seems to have matured into a calm, likable teen, dealing with grief by writing grim stories about death and unfairly targeted by his unhinged uncle. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

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