Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book Review: While My Eyes Were Closed

By Jami Deise

Everyone has asked the question at one point: What kind of mother would do that?

What kind of mother would give her two-year-old juice in a bottle?

What kind of mother would forget to pick up her kid at daycare?

What kind of mother would leave her sleeping child in the car?

Even people who have never had children feel free to judge those who have. And those of us who are mothers know we’ve done something, at some point, that has others judging us.

But hopefully they aren’t lurking in the woods, waiting to take our child away when we’re not looking.

In Linda Green’s While My Eyes Were Closed, when Lisa Dale takes her four-year-old daughter Ella to the park, she only closes her eyes for a moment to play hide-and-seek. But then a client calls, and Lisa lets go of Ella’s balloon, and by the time she goes seeking for Ella, Ella is gone. At first, Lisa thinks Ella is just very good at hiding. When she finally calls her husband Alex in a panic, he thinks she’s overreacting. By the time the police are called, Ella isn’t in the park anymore.'

Lisa has no idea that Muriel – her son Otis’s piano teacher – was in the park, watching as Lisa made light of Ella falling down, and then turning to her phone as Ella ran off. What kind of mother is she? Muriel asks. Certainly not a woman who deserves a child like Ella. And since Ella already knew Muriel from accompanying her brother to his piano lessons (oddly enough, Lisa never did), Ella goes with her willingly. As Lisa and Alex grow more and more frantic, Muriel cuts Ella’s hair and changes the girl’s clothes, so she looks just like Muriel’s son Matthew. Matthew, Muriel tells Ella, is a grown-up boy now, living on his own. But why is Muriel still calling for him?

The book has three points of view: Lisa’s, Muriel’s, and Matthew’s from a year-old diary. Muriel’s point of view dominates, and because of that decision, there isn’t really a lot of suspense around the question of what will happen to Ella. Instead, the mystery is what happened to Matthew, and how much his fate impacts his mother’s current state of mind.

There is really nothing surprising about Lisa or her story. The police investigation unfolds predictably; her family reacts as a typical family would react in these circumstances. I had expected Lisa to be the focal character – the book blurb is written from her point of view – but the author spends a lot more time with Muriel. Muriel’s mind is a little muddy, which isn’t surprising, considering her actions. The secondary characters – Alex, Lisa’s older daughter Chloe, Otis and the police woman Claire – all seem very real. I was impressed by Green’s ability to authentically portray children of different ages. I never doubted Ella was four-going-on-five, and 5th grader Otis handled his sister’s disappearance with a believable mixture of bewilderment and bravado.

My only complaint is that for a suspense thriller, the pacing is quite slow. The writer reveals very early on that Muriel has taken Ella, and her reasons for doing so. Most of the book depicts Muriel’s attempts at winning over the child, and Muriel’s thoughts about Matthew and how to manipulate Ella. However, there is an interesting twist when the book is almost over that tied things together neatly, albeit coincidentally. While My Eyes Were Closed could have had a much faster pace had Green laid out this coincidence at the beginning and made it Muriel’s motivation, rather than having Muriel take Ella on impulse.

Kidnapped children and their frantic mothers seem to be a trend in suspense novels these days, and While My Eyes Were Closed offers an interesting take on the plot. And I have to admit, I did judge Lisa. The question going through my mind was: What kind of mother doesn’t know her son’s piano teacher?

Thanks to Quercus for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit all the stops on Linda Green's blog tour.

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