Tag Archives: trauma

Remember Me Like This

9781400062126_p0_v3_s260x420In a chilling examination of family interactions, Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This reveals the dislocation and eventual reinvention of lives trying to cope with the return of a young boy, four years after he had been kidnapped.  Although the plot is similar to Jacquelin Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean with the boy living within blocks of his family before he is discovered, Johnston’s victim, Justin Campbell, suffers abuse and terror as the prisoner of a man whose wealthy family lives nearby.  Justin’s grandfather discovers he knows the captor’s father.

Through the four years Justin Campbell has been missing, his family has fallen apart. The author alternates chapters with each family member’s inner thoughts. Justin’s father, Eric, struggles through his days teaching and starts an ongoing affair; his mother vascillates between despair and indifference; his younger brother, Griff, tentatively tries to navigate without his big brother.  After endless posters and years of searching, Justin is discovered at a nearby flea market and returned to his family.  Justin is older, taller, heavier, but being found is only the beginning of his ordeal and his family’s.

Johnston reveals Justin’s trauma but only subtly hints at the sordid details of his captivity.  More shocking are his seemingly normal experiences over those years, and his proximity to his family home.  When his captor is released on bail, the action escalates, as Eric and Justin’s grandfather plan to force the kidnapper to leave the country – or kill him.

Remember Me Like This examines the aftershock.  How does a family recover?  How does the victim heal? Is revenge an option?  Although the inner angst is sometimes overworked, the story has the pace of a thriller, and kept my attention.

If You Could Do It Over – The Nobodies Album

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would that be? Would you right a wrong, or selfishly target something to make yourself feel or look better?

In the beginning of her book, The Nobodies Album, Carolyn Parkhurst warns you

“…better to keep the focus on yourself and leave the others to sort themselves out…”

Octavia Frost is a well-known author who has decided to create an addendum for each ending of her books. She’s rewritten the end of each story and compiled them into a new book – The Nobodies Album – named after a game she and her son played when he was a child – the stories that only exist in the imagination.

In delivering her manuscript to her publisher, she notices the news ticker across Times Square, announcing that her now rock star son is accused of brutally murdering his girlfriend. She leaves immediately for San Francisco to be near her son, whom she hasn’t talked to in four years.

And so the mystery story begins. Who killed Bettina (the girlfriend)? Did her son really do it? Why haven’t mother and son talked in so long? What did he read in her published book that turned him away from her? How did her husband and daughter die?

Parkhurst cleverly keeps you in suspense, and teases you by injecting the last chapters and rewrites of Octavia Frost’s novels just when cliffhanger clues might help solve the murder. You’ll be tempted to skip back to the action, but then you’d miss those peeks into Octavia’s subconscious. The rewrites offer endings with hope, but the originals speak to her regrets.

Could she rewrite her life along with the endings? Can she be there for her son or will she coldly use him as material for her next book?

Halfway through the book, it hit me– this is Mary Tyler Moore in Judith Guest’s Ordinary People.

Despite all the angst, emotional upheaval and selfish moments, Parkhurst delivers a good detective story. You might guess whodunnit – but by that time it will seem irrelevant.

Not an easy story to read, The Nobodies Album thankfully has an ending that does not need rewriting.