The Last Resort takes place at Harmony Resort, a couples counselling centre on the Mayan Riviera whose name pretty much declares that harmony is the last thing we can expect. I’m a huge fan of soapy dramas and of beach settings, so add in a rather sketchy pair of resort owners and a tropical storm that traps everyone on-site, and I’m all in for a big and juicy summer read.
The novel focuses on two couples at the resort — Johanna and Ben, and Shell and Colin — who all clearly have some deep-seated issues that a few days at the beach will be unlikely to solve. Adding to the mix is the fact that resort owner Dr Miles Markell is a totally domineering egomaniac who flat-out emotionally abuses his wife Grace, also a doctor. Grace and Miles present a facade of a happy and loving marriage, but I absolutely hated Miles throughout. He reminded me of Alexander Skarsgard’s character in Big Little Lies, and just like that character, I was hoping the entire time for Grace to escape and Miles to get his just desserts.
Stapley has written a taut and emotionally arresting story, and I couldn’t put the book down. She takes on the perspective of multiple characters, and through that, provides us with a view of the overall situation that is both intimate and comprehensive. Each of the characters has their own trauma to process — Johanna is a social worker who survived a violent episode with a client’s husband, Ben is a loving husband who struggles to forge a connection with his wife, and a family tragedy has led to Shell becoming an alcoholic and Colin becoming a workaholic — and I love how Stapley somehow ties them all thematically and, more important, emotionally. Beyond Miles’ character, this book also reminded me of Big Little Lies because of the friendships between the women characters. I love how, even though these women barely knew each other, they can still somehow find a touch of connection and support each other.
The overt thrillerish aspects of this story happened closer to the end, when the tropical storm descends and the danger to certain characters becomes urgent. But I love how Stapley maintains a low thrum of menace throughout, such that you know something’s wrong and you want to yell at the characters to run while they still can, but there isn’t yet a clear source of this danger.
If you like Liane Moriarty’s fiction and Big Little Lies in particular, I highly recommend checking this book out. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the emotional lives of several couples, an examination of how various types of trauma impact the way we respond to the world, and, quite simply, an overall enjoyable read.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.