Do yourself a favor and don't bother reading the flap copy of this book. Just look at the GORGEOUS cover designed by Mario Hugo (Knopf can basically do no wrong in my book) and buy the thing.
A strange recommendation I know, but believe me, you will be doing yourself a favor.
The reason being that from the bare bones, this book seems pretty formulaic; a been-there-done-that sort of small-town murder mystery. Yes, there is a murder—of Catherine Clare, wife of George and mother of three-year-old Franny—but the book disposes of that pretty quickly, and spends most of the narrative focusing on the time leading up to the murder. And more importantly, it looks at the people surrounding the family and the house they live in: the old Hale farm.
So, yes, this is the story of Catherine Clare's murder, but really, it's so much more than that. It's also the story of her life and how she came to be on this middle-of-nowhere farm with George and a baby. Marriages aren't perfect, but she's trying to make it work. She's also trying to find a new way to be herself.
It's also the story of the three Hale brothers, who watch the Clares move into their old home after the deaths of their parents in that same house. They can't seem to stay away and help out with odd jobs, trying to grow up and move on, but you can't help but wonder why they are really hanging around.
It's also George's story, and his is an interesting portrait. Of course, all eyes are looking at him when his wife turns up dead; it's almost always the husband, right? But who could really suspect the stuffy art history professor? Seeing his twists and turns and how he interweaves throughout all the rest of the narratives is quite compelling. He will keep you guessing.
It's also the story of the Hale farm itself and how it becomes haunted, in a ghostly sense, if you like to believe such things (and I think the narrative might lead you there), but also in a metaphorical sense. The house is a stand-in for Catherine herself and how she is stuck in the little nowhere town of Chosen, New York and very much haunted, not only by the choices of her past, but also the lack of choice she has in her future.
I felt that the story very much belonged to two minor characters as well. Willis Howell, a young girl working at a stable and waiting tables, and little Franny Clare. They may hover at the peripheries for much of the story, but they come into their own when the time is right.
Brundage puts another layer over the book by using multiple third-person limited for the narrative point(s) of view. Each time it started in on a different character's story, I felt that the voice was drastically different, quite a feat for third-person. And there are so many other characters who have their pieces, and have vital information to impart, it will leave you almost gasping—if only you could tell someone, anyone, everything that you know! It might all go okay, everyone might be able to figure out what happened. But alas... In a way, though, the story belongs to all of them.
I really enjoyed the literary quality of this book, which is not what I was expecting from a book being billed as a "dramatic thriller." An interesting stylistic choice on Brundage's part is the omission of quotation marks. It keeps dialogue short and to the point—people are only saying what they really would say if it were real life. Everything else they just keep inside.
That's one of the main things I kept coming back to as I was reading the book. Although the details are slowly being revealed to the reader, it's almost as though they are being obscured for all the characters. Everyone has their one puzzle piece, but they won't share, so there's no way they'll ever see the whole picture. People bottle everything up because they get so afraid and because it's easier not to say anything, not to deal with the fallout. It's easier to just let everything fall away and disappear. To let all things cease to appear.
I was really amazed by every piece of this book. I didn't expect to be so blown away by it, truly, and I couldn't be more satisfied. The cover is gorgeous and that's always a plus for adding to the collection. The writing is exquisite and she does have three other books published with Plume that I'd like to look for. But even good writing will still sink without a story, and boy, did this ever have a story.
I didn't know where it was going until the end, but I'm glad I went along for the ride. It left me with so much to think about and I'm sure there's plenty more to spend time uncovering.
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Find out more about the publisher, Knopf (Penguin Random House)
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.