I was slightly hesitant about this novel when I read it was a story told…backwards? I still recall the vivid impression the movie Memento had on me back in 2000, and I wondered how a novelist might pull off this kind of storytelling. But I wanted to give it a fair try, and OMG I am SO glad I did! First off, five stars for this gem!! Second, I REALLY don’t want to give things away, as this one is FULL of twists and turns and surprises that, if revealed, would lessen the impact on the reader…so no spoiler alert, but tiptoeing around many of the superb details…just trust me!
Nicolette Farrell’s best friend Corinne disappeared ten years before the story opens. At that time, there was an investigation centered on Nicolette, her brother Daniel, Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson, and Nicolette’s boyfriend Tyler. They all lived in Cooley Ridge, described as “an unassuming town tucked into the edge of the Smoky Mountains, the very definition of Small Town America, but without the charm.”
After Corinne’s disappearance, Nicolette spent ten years in the Philadelphia area, She moved on with her life, finishing her education and becoming a school counselor. Less than confident, she says she is “a terrible counselor in terms of actual counseling. Said the wrong things, never had the right advice to give. But I excelled at listening…they spilled their collective adolescent guts in my office. On paper, I was an excellent counselor.“ Nic comes back to Cooley Ridge to help her brother Daniel (who has stayed in town, and is now married to a very pregnant Laura). Their father ‘s home needs to be readied for sale, as their father has had to move into Granite Pines, which anyone who has had a family member in such a place will recognize perfectly from Nic’s description: “There’s a Sunday brunch at Grand Pines that makes it family day. Go to church, then visit the family you’ve sent away. A day of penance. Eat your weight in sins. Guilt by omelet.“
Nic and Daniel have had a strange relationship, ever since their mother died when they were young: “This was how we always communicated. In the things we didn’t say. We had developed a habit after our mother got sick, fighting in the space between words about anything other than what we meant.” And “that was one of Daniels’ more impressive accomplishments: he had perfected the art of the passive-aggressive text message.”
Another central character is Nic’s old boyfriend Tyler, with whom she recognizes clearly there continues to be a strong bond, despite her recent engagement: “People were like Russian nesting dolls – versions stacked inside the latest edition. But they all still lived inside, unchanged, just out of sight. “
Shortly after Nic arrives back in Cooley Ridge, a young woman named Annaliese (who lived next door to Nic’s family back when Corinne disappeared and may have had a connection to the incidents of that night) vanishes. Annaliese appears to have secrets she can’t wait to reveal…until she disappears, reminiscent of Corinne’s disappearance. It gets creepy when Nic goes out one night searching for Annaliese, and realizes “I was out here alone, in that empty gap of time when only the nocturnal and people craving the darkness roamed.”
I have to say, I LOVE Nic’s voice throughout the book, especially in moments like this: “It wasn’t in church but in moments like this when I maybe believed in God or something like that. Some order o the chaos, some meaning. That we collide with the people we need, that we meet the ones who will love us, that there’s some underlying reason to everything.”
As Nic works to solve the mystery of Annaliese’s disappearance, we learn what REALLY happened the night Corinne disappeared, and tons of long-buried and current secrets (family and otherwise) emerge. The story begins on Day 15 and moves backward to Day 1, the day Annaliese went missing. There are complex relationships, amazing plotting, and outstanding character development. Despite my trepidation about the story being told backward and whether that might interfere with the mystery itself, I was totally impressed. Thanks to S & S / NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review. Again, five stars!