Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: What She Knew

What She Knew is exactly the kind of book my blogging friend Sheila wouldn't pick up. It contains her book kryptonite of something horrific happening to a young child. I, myself, was deeply saddened when the initial germ of this book actually played out in national news this week with the disappearance and eventual discovery of Noah Chamberlin. When the what if you've created for the sake of a story, is so entirely plausible and possible, it kicks the story up a notch. While I was able to disconnect and read without putting myself in the narrator's shoes, it was still an uncomfortable, haunting story.

When Rachel Jenner's husband left her and married another woman, she was left with a deep ache and the daunting task of primary custody of their eight-year-old son, Ben. It is her husband she is thinking of when Ben asks if he can run ahead during their walk in the woods. He would encourage the boy's independence, so she makes the decision to allow him to run with his dog to the rope swing on his own. It is something they've done every Sunday for months and months. He certainly knew the way. Yet, somehow, he is now missing and every hour that passes submerges her deeper into a mother's worst nightmare.

The story is told from multiple perspectives through blog entries, therapy transcripts, newspaper clippings, and the dueling narration from the mother and the chief detective on the case. I thought it was somewhat cumbersome, but did understand the author's purpose in selecting that format. In this manner, the reader is allowed to see multiple perspectives. Moreover, social media response is typical in this day and age, so its inclusion was entirely understandable.

While I didn't dislike the book, it wasn't a book I feel compelled to encourage others to read. The writing is good and the premise is enticing, but I didn't come away with an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the tale. Here's what I liked: the author does an outstanding job of getting inside the mind of a parent who is facing such a devastating loss and mystery. I appreciated the page-turning suspense of the story. I was so absorbed in the story that I became unaware of the author (this is definitely the mark of good writing).

Several areas simply bothered me. It felt like the story barely progressed at all in the first 200 pages. Once the premise was set in motion, no progress on the case was made and it was simply providing background information on the characters (who they are and where they are coming from). At the 200 page mark, the story kicked into gear and became the page-turner it is billed as on the back cover. But, even with more action and deeper trails into the mysterious disappearance, the details felt sensationalized. There are multiple characters who have a dead child in their background. The carnage of human baggage each character carries just got to be a bit too much to believe. There's a revelation about a long held secret. The detective battles his demons. His partners have equivalent demons in their backgrounds affecting their actions. I began to feel there wasn't a single normal (untraumatized) person in the entire story. I began to think "Okay, what is the author going to throw at us next in an attempt to wrangle an emotional response from the reader?"

As far as psychological thrillers go, this is probably considered a good one. It did keep the reader guessing about the truth and how the conflict will finally resolve. I didn't grow fond of any of the characters, but I was eager to get to their true identities. You wonder why the police officer is suffering from PTSD. You wonder if Rachel is, indeed, who she says she is. But, still, I came away unconvinced. Thus, even though the writing was sound, the story just didn't appeal to me in the final analysis.

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