The less time I have to read, the harder I find it to choose which books are worthy of the time. I think both in terms of wanting to read books that mean something and also sometimes remembering reading books is just for fun. Choosing which new releases are worth reading is even harder and I'm not too proud to say that I do look at endorsements* and blurbs when I'm pitched a book. (other things I consider --for those of you as nerdy as I am who love to discuss this-- are the publisher, editor, and/or agent.)
So when The Next Time You See Me was pitched to me as a book Gillian Flynn endorsed I was interested, but even more interested when I read all the names of people who liked this book. It sounded like a buzzy book so I agreed and when it arrived, I started it almost immediately. And it was a good choice. A really good choice.
The Next Time You See Me is one of those books that's about a woman who has disappeared and while that's the event everything in the story sort of circles around, it's really about so much more. It's told through multiple points of view, several different people in the town, some of them responsible for the disappearance, some of them related to the woman who has disappeared, some of them related to the event only in its aftermath. It's a small town and they don't take the disappearance of a woman who was already known for being a bit loose and careless that seriously at first. In fact, Susanna, Ronnie's sister, has to battle her own husband who refuses to takes her concerns seriously.
But like I said this book is really about something else. It's about being an outsider and it's about infatuation and it's about the isolation in us all. A Separate Peace pops up in the book repeatedly, Ronnie was reading it before she disappeared, Susanna teaches it to her high school students. It's a really great book to reference in the text, though, particularly Christopher's insight about it:
He thought, too, that the book wasn't about adolescent cruelty or peer pressure or any of those stupid catchphrases from after-school specials. Gene hadn't jostled that branch because he hated Finny or merely because he was jealous, and he hadn't jostled it thinking that Finny would fall and become a broken version of his once glorious self. He had done it because there was something about Finny that made him ache, something that he desired, and the desire terrified him, made him weak.
It's so ironic because Christopher is perceptive about this without being able to drawn his own conclusions about a treatment of a girl in the book. While I don't think the situations are exact parallels, they do have some resemblance since Christopher's dominant feelings with regards to Emily are fear/desire. And it confuses him because he's also repulsed by her and finds it easy to bully her. Their relationship...the way Emily creates a fantasy Christopher in her head that makes her capable of forgiving all of his horrible behavior to him, and his mixed feelings towards her is a fascinating element of the book.
But young odd teen girls aren't the only ones bullied in this book. Wyatt is an older man working a job he hates, intensely lonely, who also finds himself the subject of some younger practical jokers at his work. Despite his better judgment and an admonishment from a coworker, he still finds himself falling in with them. He explains it well at one point by saying that Sam had "a way of making his attention feel like a gift." (I loved this line so much because I know people like this, like when they pay attention to you it feels like the sun is shining on you.) Wyatt suffers a heart attack and is maybe given a second chance at love. But I liked how there were these connections between Emily, the young one being bullied, and Wyatt and the different ways their outsider status affected them.
The characters are all layered and interesting and I felt a lot of sympathy for them all. The writing is lovely and perceptive. This is the kind of crime novel I like best, the kind that has a small mystery but doesn't end in some climatic scene where the super sleuth is in dangerous peril...you find out what happened, and in finding out feel all the melancholy and sorrow of it. The epilogue was a stroke of genius, I felt all the sadness of what had happened settle in and I truly felt like I had been on a journey with these characters. So far it's one of my favorite books I've read this year and one I know I'll be happy to recommend and talk about for some time to come. I also want to read this author's previous short story collection. Recommended.
Other choice quotes:
"What I'm saying is that if you want people to care about you, you have to meet them halfway. I wish that being yourself was the answer, but, honey, it's not. I'm sorry. It's the truth. You have to act interested in other people, and you have to ask them questions about themselves, and "--she was weeping openly now--"you've got to be normal sometimes."
"I'm not normal," Emily said. She looked up finally, taking in her mother's damp, magnified eyes and sun-spotted neck. Her skin Emily noticed for the first time, was loose and slightly crinkled. Overripe.
"Baby normal's not who you are or how you're born." Her mother was smiling a little, calm again, as if Emily had made the only statement that she could have formulated a response to. "It's how you act. It's something you do on purpose."
Susanna remembered being thirteen and feelings sometimes that the books she read were more real to her and more valuable than the life she lived. She had read the things she loved most, such as Pride and Prejudice, over and over and over, until she knew whole paragraphs by heart, and she remembered her affection for Elizabeth and her passion for Darcy, how desperately she wished them real, how cruel it seemed to her that they weren't.
Things You Might Want to Know: profanity
Source of Book: Review copy received from publisher
Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
*one of the blurbs on this book admittedly made me wonder if the person had finished reading it because THAT's what they took from it? but lol to each their own I guess!