In order that two imperfect souls might touch perfection.
(note from Justin Sanderson to his wife, Molly)
Is it just me, or do other readers find the adjectives used on book jackets to describe the book’s contents pretty silly? Where They Found Her, Kimberly McCreight’s second novel, is called a “blistering novel of psychological suspense.” At least it wasn’t labeled “luminous” — I guess that worn-out term is reserved for literary novels.
Blistering or not, Where They Found Her is fast-paced, multi-layered, meticulously constructed, and peopled with interesting and believable characters. If you pick it up in the evening, prepare to stay up late, because you won’t want to stop reading. Readers sometimes say they read a book in a “single sitting”, and you can’t take that too literally (don’t they have to get off the couch and get a snack?), but I did read this book in one day. It’s that kind of book. To quote McCreight herself, who was actually describing Gillian Flynn’s novels, it’s “character-driven, miss-your-subway-stop suspense.”
Like so many successful suspense novels, Where They Found Her is narrated by multiple characters — another reason to consume this book in big chunks. If you read a chapter or two every day, you’ll undoubtedly get confused. McCreight skillfully adds to the varied perspectives with journal entries, records of psychiatric sessions, transcripts of online chats, and online newspaper articles (with reader comments).
The book opens with an unnamed narrator disposing of a bag of evidence in a dumpster behind a suburban tanning salon:
I have to shove hard to get the blood-soaked towels in, even harder to push the canvas bag through the thin crack. I’m afraid for a second it’ll get stuck. But when I push my whole weight against it, it flies through so fast that I almost smash my face against the edge of the dumpster. When I pull my hands out,they’re covered in blood. For a second I think it’s mine. But it’s not mine. It’s the baby’s blood. All over me again, just like it was an hour ago.
What has happened, and who is telling the story? Readers won’t find out for almost 300 pages, with plenty of detours along the way. It’s revealed in the first couple of chapters that the body of a newborn baby has been found in the woods near the college campus in the upscale suburb of Ridgedale, New Jersey.
Molly Sanderson, wife of a Ridgedale University professor and new to the staff of the Ridgedale Reader, investigates the story — which turns out to be much more complicated than she originally anticipated, leading back to unsavory secrets in Ridgedale’s past. Molly’s own past, which includes a painful childhood and the recent loss of her baby, influences her reporting of the crime — or is it a crime?
“A crime scene? That seems to presuppose a murder. Do we know that?” I asked, pleased that I’d picked up on his jumping of the gun.
“Good point, I suppose we don’t,” Erik said. “Our source in the department was vague . . . Despite what they seem to think, the local police aren’t entitled to any sort of special treatment from us, but they’ll already be on the defensive with the university to contend with.”
Barbara, wife of the local police chief, Sandy, a high school girl with a difficult home life, and Jenna, Sandy’s troubled mother, also lend their points of view to the disturbing events in Ridgedale. These events include not only the mystery of the body found near the campus, but other, perhaps even more compelling, subplots involving the seamy underbelly of a seemingly peaceful college town. The less said about these subplots, the better — if you’d like to read a review that does include spoilers (and participate in a discussion), please visit Sarah’s Book Shelves. Sarah includes her “wrong guesses” and “lingering questions”.
In an interview on BookPage, McCreight was asked, “What’s it like writing in multiple voices?”
Extremely liberating and occasionally very tricky. My favorite part of writing is being able to live in someone else’s skin. Multiple points of view mean becoming several different “selves,” which is all the better. It also gives me the freedom to explore the narrative from several perspectives, making the process of discovery that is so integral to my writing process that much more exciting.
That said, it does take effort to keep the voices distinct while ensuring that each character’s story has a well-formed arc, internally consistent and effectively knit into the broader whole.
McCreight is adept at shifting perspectives, gradually adding clues that may lead readers to solve the puzzle of the dead newborn. Not this reader, however; I was completely surprised when I learned the identity of the parents. On rereading sections of the book, I realized I had overlooked certain subtle hints. McCreight does include some red herrings — and again, those became more obvious on a second reading. (The New York Times quipped that McCreight’s first novel, Reconstructing Amelia, is “a mystery with enough red herring to stock Lake Michigan.”)
Molly’s English professor husband, Justin, leaves little notes for Molly to find. Readers will find that these notes — all quotes from famous writers — work, as McCreight mentions in her BookPage interview, “on multiple levels”. And They Found Her works on multiple levels as well — for example, who is the “her”? Who are the “they”? The answers are not as simple as they first appear.
This novel, like Reconstructing Amelia, is a perfect crossover book for teenagers. YA readers will enjoy the fast pace, the 17-year-old narrator, and the campus setting. McCreight is currently working on YA speculative fiction (The Outliers), focusing on this question: “What if women’s greater emotionality—so often deemed a sign of weakness—was, in fact, our greatest strength?” The question is interesting in light of Where They Found Her. Molly’s emotional response to the news story she’s asked to cover actually does provide her with strength and purpose.
For more reviews of Where They Found Her, please check out TLC Book Tours.