Monday, January 6, 2020

Book Review: How Quickly She Disappears

By Jami Deise

Since my two favorite genres are domestic thrillers and historical fiction, I was eager to read How Quickly She Disappears, the debut by Raymond Fleischmann that combines the two.

Taking place in pre-World War II Alaska, the protagonist is Elisabeth, a thirty-year-old teacher’s wife who never got over the disappearance of her twin sister, Jacqueline, who vanished when the girls were eleven. Now with a pre-teen daughter of her own, Elisabeth is isolated by her German background, self-absorbed husband, and small-town politics. When Alfred, who also has a German background, comes to town, Elisabeth feels duty-bound to host him. But after Alfred kills a local, Elisabeth is blamed. And Alfred complicates things even further by insisting that he knows exactly what happened to Jacqueline – and that she is still alive. If Elisabeth will do certain things for him, Alfred will tell her where Jacqueline is. But can this killer really be trusted?
The book alternates between the two timelines – the period just before Jacqueline disappears, and the present day of the novel.

While it’s written in close third person from Elisabeth’s point-of-view, there’s still space for the reader to be shocked and appalled at the manipulation by the villains in the book. As an eleven-year-old, Elisabeth has an up-close look at how an older neighbor turns Jacqueline against her family. And as an adult, Elisabeth’s obsession about her sister leaves her powerless to fight against the same kind of manipulation when it happens to her. With such few characters, the book feels claustrophobic, which helps the reader understand why Elisabeth was so susceptible to the manipulation. With no one to confide in, she has no escape.

How Quickly She Disappears is a strong debut, but I was expecting a stronger pre-war feel than the book conveyed. Similarly, the mystery of what happened to Jacqueline isn’t that complicated – it’s obvious pretty quickly what happened. Still, Alfred’s creepy machinations combined with Elisabeth’s puppet-like moves are compelling even without the historic or domestic thriller tropes. With a Silence of the Lambs type feel, the book will also appeal to readers who appreciate the depiction of the bond between identical twins.

Fleishmann’s confident writing previews an exciting career in the thriller genre. Perhaps his next book will be a sequel.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

No comments: