Author: Jessica Strawser
The tinny hum of sleeping infants drifts over baby monitors as wine and conversation flow. The local women of the Yellow Spring suburb are enjoying a girls’ night around neighbor Clara’s fire pit, little suspecting that the next day will shatter this peaceful memory. In the flickers of dancing flames and the drowsy innocence of motherhood rested with wine, a dark secret is lurking. When the sun rises on hangovers and normal life again, one of the mothers is missing, as are her two children. Are they dead? Runaways? Is the ex-husband a suspect or a sympathetic victim? Is this about money, power, a secret domestic trauma, something else even more insidious?
Not That I Could Tell is a slow paced character story with a background mystery that questions how well you really know your community, your neighbors, and your friends. Is the appearance of peace, of perfection, a shield for what goes on behind closed curtains in seemingly normal homes? Is it our responsibility to take sides, to investigate, to insert our self into another’s life? If so, to what degree?
Author Jessica Strawser crafts an elegant yet subtle story – a sleeper that pulls us in from page one. Something about the writing, confidential and easy, oddly cozy with a chatting over-the-coffee-cups-flair, gives this slow paced drama a sense of infinite, comfortable familiarity. It starts on page one and while the novel promises all the time that it isn’t that out there, that it won’t be taking us on some fantastic thriller ride or some Gone Girl-esque mystery, these humble proclamations belie interiority and unassuming introspection.
Kristin, the missing mom, is merely the unknown victim, essential in that she is a catalyst. The characters left behind, who dance around the scope of a suddenly upended neighborhood, are just like us: fallible and yet sympathetic, so demandingly human. There is Clara, beleaguered mother, puppy owner, and wife. Clara’s life seems perfect to everyone. She is the one with the fancy house, after all, and the now legendary fire pit. Yet there is more to Clara than the peace she exudes. Kristin’s disappearance evokes an old memory, the one thing Clara can never forget. As she starts to become more involved, her previously intact marriage disintegrates. Past inaction demands present action, whatever the cost.
New neighbor Izzy has her own heartache to overcome. Her true love and best friend of years has fallen for and married her sister instead. Now with the new couple expecting a baby, Izzy has to consult her deepest, darkest feelings of betrayal plus memories of her sister’s husband, the man she loved and lost. She knows what it is like to be the outcast. To be the one suspected. To be the one with the agonizing pain society neither accepts nor finds sympathetic. So, when Kristin’s teary ex starts a friendship with her, she’s apt not to judge. Perhaps the ex is really the true victim in the story after all.
Tying the neighborhood ladies together is an active eleven year-old with a desire to be a journalist and an unfortunate proclivity for hiding and overhearing conversations. What she finds out about the police investigation soon puts Clara and Izzy, formerly fast friends, on opposite sides and scandalizes the already rocked neighborhood. With so much conflicting information and talk, suspicion begins to chip away at the happy façade of Yellow Rock.
And so it goes, the novel coalescing around who the people are, their secret fears and passions, their weaknesses and endless need for forgiveness, their desire to help and their fear of becoming involved, their sense of community and ultimate isolation. It’s a slow but satisfying burn and while we ultimately know the who-dunnit early on, it’s the delivery of the inevitable conclusion that further solidifies why we care about this community, these so-real people. It also subtly sits at the corners of our minds: what would you do? What would you say? How many times did you not get involved, and what does that ultimately mean for another person’s life?
– Frances Carden
Follow my reviews on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/xombie_mistress
Follow my reviews on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/FrancesReviews/