‘This Might Hurt’ is a Psychological Thriller and Condemnation of the Wellness Industry
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Stephanie Wrobel has a thing for dysfunctional families. Her 2020 debut, Darling Rose Gold, was a psychological thriller inspired by the real-life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a young woman who, after years of abuse at the hands of her mother, plotted with an internet boyfriend to kill her.

Wrobel’s latest, This Might Hurt, centers on the complicated relationship between two sisters, Natalie and Kit, and the secrets—and cult—threatening to tear their family apart.

The novel starts in the wake of their mom’s death. Natalie and Kit haven’t been in contact for six months, with Natalie working as a high-powered executive in Boston, while Kit toils as a soul-searching receptionist in Brooklyn. This sense of introspection makes Kit an ideal target for a place like Wisewood, a wellness center on a remote island in Maine. There, a leader known only as Teacher promises to help attendees be their “Maximized Self.” Committing to six-month stays, guests pledge to cut off all contact from the outside world—no internet, no phones, no visitors.

That last clause proves to be an issue when Natalie receives an anonymous and menacing email from someone with a Wisewood email address threatening to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from Kit. But, when she drives to Wisewood in an attempt to get to Kit before the email’s sender does, she’s met by an unwelcoming population and the sneaking suspicion that she’s being watched and followed.

Narration cycles between Natalie, Kit and a third woman whose identity is revealed halfway through the novel and whose backstory—including psychological and physical abuse at the hands of her father—is integral to Wisewood’s history.

Jumping from narrator to narrator and present to past, Wrobel explores themes of grief and guilt, and proves a deft chronicler of the language of trauma and recovery. Kit notes, “I felt a little lighter, having shared a piece of my guilt and anger and fear aloud. To hear how many other people were furious with their parents or bore a backbreaking load of shame. To discover I wasn’t the only terrible daughter or son in the room. I was a little lighter.”

With shades of Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, This Might Hurt is a tense psychological thriller with an eye towards larger themes. “What does recovery look like?” Wrobel asks. And at what cost should we seek it?

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