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March 19, 2023

A Flaw in the Design by Nathan Oates ~ a Review

by MK French


Gil is a creative writing professor in a small Vermont town, enjoying life with his wife and daughter. He'd been estranged from his sister and her wealthy husband after their son lured his daughter into a dangerous situation. After Gil's sister and her husband are killed in an accident, however, seventeen-year-old Matthew must come to live with Gil and his family. Matthew seems unaffected by the deaths and soon enrolls in Gil's class. He writes stories about the deaths of Gil's family and his own parents, terrifying Gil. He's unwilling to simply let something terrible happen, and will take matters into his own hands.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of domestic thriller A Flaw in the Design by Nathan Oates
March 2023; Random House; 978-0593446706
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); domestic thriller

From the start, Gil is suspicious of Matthew and read ulterior motives into every gesture, silence, and statement. We learn that it's based on eleven-year-old Matthew mocking him and pushing Gil's youngest daughter into a pool when she couldn't swim. Now he's seventeen, taller and stronger than Gil, richer and more charming, not showing any grief outwardly. It sets Gil on edge, so when Matthew writes the short story with deaths to characters that look like Gil's daughters, he freaks out. His paranoia is really uncomfortable to read, and his life with that level of agitation must be terrible to live through. He certainly never seems happy, and that carries through every scene. 

I find Gil so unpleasant to read that I could only read for up to twenty minutes or so at a time. The flashes of "evil Matthew" are interspersed throughout the text, and Gil certainly comes across as jealous of him and the way he grew up. I kept reading to find out if Matthew was truly evil, or if Gil had so much prejudice that he was incapable of seeing any positive behavior. It felt like he had pushed Matthew into that villain box from the start, and refused to let him out. Gil became obsessive with it, and I was more and more disconnected from him even as the plot progressed. As much as they bait each other, Gil is a grown man who should know better. This is the literary equivalent of rubbernecking: it's an awful situation that is still compelling, so you can't look away. 

The book is brilliantly written, and the ending is not what I had predicted at all. If you like stories with unreliable and unpleasant narrators, this is an excellent example.

Buy A Flaw in the Design at Amazon


Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.


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