12 February 2013

The Next Time You See Me (Holly Goddard Jones)

Holly Goddard Jones's debut novel The Next Time You See Me is the book Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl wishes it was: more compassionate, more believable, just as beautifully written.

(Yeah, I know, I'm the only one who found Gone Girl ultimately kinda . . . silly? That plot twist halfway through is just not good; were it framed in less assured prose, no one would've given the novel a second thought.)

It's a shame, really, that my first impulse is comparative, because while Jones is working in the same character-driven crime-fiction milieu as Flynn and Tana French, the sheer range of The Next Time You See Me sets it apart. Though it's written in third person, Jones's narrative inhabits several different psyches, centering around the erratic, doomed figure of Ronnie Eastman: Emily, a pudgy and persecuted middle schooler who finds her body in the first chapter; Susanna, Ronnie's younger sister, desperately trying to convince those around her that Ronnie has really disappeared; Wyatt, a factory worker and bachelor whose quiet, unchanging life is upended by a heart attack; Tony, an African-American baseball star now a detective in his small Kentucky hometown. Even minor characters--Christopher, Emily's unattainable crush; Sarah, a nurse who, with Wyatt, is shocked into love--are full and real, keeping their own sadnesses, shames, and small joys. While Flynn's protagonists are (deliciously) horrible people, Jones's diverse cast are all sympathetic, and she pulls off the astounding feat of making your heart break as much for the murderer as the victim.

And she does this all with such lovely words, too, from brief images--"his jaws, while not chattering, exactly, were shivering against one another like plates in a dishwasher"--to long, well-wrought passages of insight:
[Susanna had] taken to [motherhood] like she'd taken to cooking: with intelligence and determination but no confidence, consulting books and her own mother's counsel the way she checked, every time she made a white sauce for macaroni and cheese, to make sure that the recipe called for two tablespoons of flour and not three. She wasn't the kind of woman who could throw three or four ingredients into a pot, willy-nilly, and create a meal. She wasn't the kind of woman who could give discipline or life instruction or even an allowance, willy-nilly, and create a daughter.
I strongly suspect I'll be the same way upon acquiring offspring. I am certainly that kind of cook.

Really can't recommend this one highly enough.

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