I think this book is up there with GONE GIRL or GIRL ON THE TRAIN for mystery/suspense novels. The main difference is that there doesn’t seem to be physical danger involved for the protagonist. It involves two main point of view characters, a man Jonathan and his daughter Olive. Jonathan’s wife and Olive’s mother, Billie, disappeared a year earlier after a hike in the wilderness, presumed dead.
Jonathan is writing a memoir about his wife, prompted by a video of his speech at the memorial that went viral and led to a book contract. (Authors in published novels all seem to leave charmed lives in which generous publishers are endlessly clamoring for their unique voice. But I digress …) The memoir is meant to be a sappy love story about how they met and their ill-fated romance. Meanwhile, Olive has begun to have visions of her mother in which her mother seems to be alive.
As Jonathan does more research for the book and Olive’s visions get stronger, they each start to believe in the possibility that Billie is still alive somewhere. There are clues that she hid giant chunks of her past from all of them. Harmony, Billie’s friend who knew her from childhood, flat-out says that Billie had big secrets.
What I liked about the book was the constant sense of things teetering on the precipice of disaster. Jonathan is just about broke, hasn’t paid his kid’s tuition, Olive has only one friend and seems to be damaging that relationship too, the book isn’t coming along that fast and it’s not going in the right direction, and meanwhile they both have this nagging sense that Billie didn’t actually die in the wilderness, that she’s alive and out there somewhere, living another life.
The more I found out about Billie, the less I liked her and the more I admired her, if that makes sense. She’s a real piece of work. She’s not the kind of person you’d really want in your life, but she’s still fascinating. The chance that she really did fake her own disappearance (she seems selfish and evil enough) seems plausible. And yet … where would she go? And why? I loved the ambiguity of it. The author does tell you what really happened in the wilderness, so you’re not left wondering if she died or disappeared, but you’re left guessing until the very end.
I also liked the ambiguity of Olive’s visions. Are they real visions, or just seizures? Maybe? Maybe both? Either way, they’re plausible and they get the job done.
I really enjoyed the tension and the plot twists and found this a very entertaining novel.