Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (Atria, 2017)
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell gets top marks in delivering the creep factor to those of us who like psychological thrillers that would have ended up being films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Reminiscent of the classic The Collector by John Fowles, this haunting tale of a beloved daughter gone missing maintains its intensity until the last page.
For ten years, since her fifteen year old daughter disappeared, Laurel Mack has been sleepwalking through life. Her apathetic approaches to raising Hanna and Jake, her surviving children, have served to alienate them from her in adulthood. Her marriage to Paul, whom she acknowledges to others to be a very good man, fell apart because she could no longer be a wife in any respect to her spouse. In her misery and guilt over the loss of Ellie, Laurel finds pleasure in nothing.
That is, until the afternoon that she meets a handsome and inviting man named Floyd Dunn. He sits next to Laurel in a coffee shop and opens a conversation with her by complimenting her pretty hair and offering a taste of carrot cake to her. It feels almost serendipitous that they have met, and in fact, as the story continues we come to know that it is much more than that.
Jewell describes Laurel’s feelings at the moment of meeting Floyd in this way, “A blade of light passes across the cafe at that moment, bright as a torchlight. It touches the spoon and makes it glitter. The cake has the indents of a fork in it. The moment is curiously intimate and Laurel’s gut reaction is to back away, to leave. But as she watches, the sparkles on the silver spoons she feels something inside her begin to open up. Something like hope.” (p. 49)
Although it appears that Laurel is ready to start living again, the above quote foreshadows so much more for the emotionally suspended mother. Floyd has given Laurel his number to call if she wishes to see him again. She surprises herself by making the call and learning more about his personal life upon their second meeting. He informs her that he has two daughters by different women. His older daughter, Sara Jade, he describes as “unusual,” but doesn’t offer more than that. His tone changes completely when he talks about his younger child. He offers, “Poppy is amazing, you know, she’s insanely brilliant at maths, has the driest, wickedest sense of humor, takes no shit from anyone. She really keeps me on my toes,” (p.62)
He explains that he has custody of Poppy because her mother, a woman with whom he had a brief relationship, dumped the child on his doorstep and disappeared completely from their lives.
“What do you think happened to her?” Laurel asks. . . “Do you think maybe she’s dead?”
He looks up at her darkly and she knows that she has gone too far. “Who knows?” he says. “Who knows.” And then the smile reappears, the conversation moves along.” (p.65)
Every page of Jewell’s book is infused with hints that lead Laurel down a path she cannot stop once she has started, and that is what makes this novel so compelling. While the story of a woman bereft of her motherhood due to a kidnapping is as dark as it gets, there is a thread of lightness that runs through the story that forces the reader to race through the pages.
When I finished reading Then She Was Gone I did the thing that shows how much I enjoyed the novel. I ordered another of Jewell’s fifteen published books from Amazon, which I am looking forward to reading. Jewell is a solid storyteller and plot weaver. This is an author that you will definitely want to sample.