The three main characters in this terrific puzzle are Jonathan, his wife Billie, and their teenage daughter Billie. In the Prologue, we get a hint about Billie’s adventurous nature as she comments to Jonathan as they are watching Olive at the beach: “She’s going to need to grow a thicker skin or she’s going to spend her whole life being too afraid to try anything.”
In the novel, Billie has gone off hiking solo and has disappeared. As months go by, Jonathan is trying to cope with the mysterious loss when Olive begins having vivid dreams that have her convinced her mom is still alive. While Jonathan doesn’t actually wish her dead, he has an interest in having her declared legally dead in order to collect insurance money. It really isn’t possible to tell much about the story without spoiling it, but it is well crafted and kept me guessing until the end (although, admittedly, I am the worst at figuring things out in terms of mystery plotting). So I’ll just try to convey why the experience of reading this was so enjoyable, with some examples of Ms. Brown’s narrative skill.
Olive is revealed to be quite a sensitive teenager. She attends a pricey prep school in the Bay Area, and as she observes some girls who are a couple of years behind her in school, she “wishes she could tell these girls that things get easier, but in her experience they don’t…you just discover that there are even bigger, more complicated problems that you have to solve.”
I love the way Ms. Brown describes teenaged girls, saying they “…are like skittish forest creatures that dance away at your approach, snarl if you dare to confront them head-on. You need to wait, patiently, for them to come to you.”
Brown also captures the upper-middle-class soccer moms whose daughters attend Claremont Prep with Olive. As Jonathan takes on the after-school pickup duties following Billie’s exit, and is suddenly an available male, the”…Claremont Moms are circling. They flutter around Jonathan, a flock of predatory birds in lululemon and boyfriend jeans.”
Not a fast-paced action thriller by any means, but an unraveling story that was a pleasure to read. I appreciate having a copy made available by Random House/Spiegel & Grau and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Four enthusiastic stars.