Ghosts of the past swirl through the North Carolina village of Cooley Ridge, an unassuming town tucked into the edge of the Smoky Mountains. Nicolette Farrell lived in Cooley Ridge for ten years before she left suddenly to live in Philadelphia, a city where she could finally plant her feet. When Nic gets a phone call from her brother, Daniel, she decides to return to help. They need to sell the family home. The money
is almost gone, but their father is in a facility and won’t sign the papers. Nic is also haunted by a letter she recently received from her father: “I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl."
The girl is Nic’s best friend, Corinne Prescott, who disappeared ten years ago. For Nic, Daniel, Nic’s ex-boyfriend, Taylor, and best friend Bailey, the events of the past begin to take on a whole new meaning. Although Jackson, Corinne’s boyfriend at the time, was considered the prime suspect, there was never any evidence against him.
Because Corinne was eighteen and legally an adult, the local police decided that she had probably just left town. Whatever the case, a piece of that night at the Cooley Ridge Fair “has been hidden away” in Nic’s psyche ever since.
As the blurred edges shift back into focus and the ghosts of Nic’s past return, Nic recalls Corinne, “bouncing around in her skull like a ghost,” desperately running down the side of the road while beautiful, manipulative Bailey hangs off her shoulder, “her breath hot with vodka.” Even though the local law enforcement’s investigation into Corinne’s whereabouts was boxed away with time and forgotten, many in Cooley Ridge still search for answers--especially Tyler, who never left the town and now rides roughshod around Nic’s neighborhood in his mud-stained pickup truck, and Daniel who never graduated college but now has a good job and a baby on the way, “a whole life here in Cooley Ridge.”
From the house itself and its squeaking floorboards, everything “looks half there in a muted glow” and perhaps just a little out of place.
The woods outside seem to be always keeping their secrets as Nic’s past gradually rises to the forefront of her consciousness. Nic suddenly remembers the pivotal night when Corinne vanished, the night when Nic was hanging over the edge of the Ferris wheel cart with Tyler down below and Corinne whispering “do it,” as well as Bailey’s nervous laughter and Daniel
grappling with her violently just before hitting her hard across the face with a closed fist.
Nic’s decision to finally face her hidden memories coincides with the recent disappearance of another girl, Annaleise Carter, whose property backs onto the Farrell home. Annaleise was dating Nic’s ex-boyfriend the night she disappeared. With the cops circling like vultures, Nic, Daniel, and Nic’s current boyfriend, Everett, try desperately to prevent the police from demanding answers from their father, evidence that
might point to a text that Annaleise sent the night before she disappeared, a plea to “answer some questions” about the Corinne Prescott case. From the telling of ghost stories to a monster in the woods, someone in the town knows something about these two girls, both barely adults, who have now disappeared without a trace.
While Miranda’s reverse narrative reflects, piece by puzzling piece, the despairing fragments of Nic’s unreliable past, what I really liked about the novel is the author’s ethereal, fragmented prose, a style perfectly suited to this idea that the past is something that is boxed up and stacked out of sight but never too far away. While small-town gossip frames the novel, the dark heart of the story is the mystery that lies behind the machinations of the three teenage girls--Corinne, Nic and Bailey, best friends who were recklessly drunk on life but never really considered the consequences of their actions. As Miranda unfolds the girls’ connections, the possibility of Corinne and Annaleise’s murder
grows “like static in the air,” forcing a final resolution that closes around Nic, Daniel, and embattled Tyler. In just two weeks of digging into the past, all the lies, denials, and hidden animosities are only just beginning to rise to the surface.
Miranda’s novel is always haunting and imaginative. Like a crazed monster, it casts its deep shadows and dark shapes
in Nic’s peripheral vision. In a story that moves from the present to the past and then back again, facts and deception and half truths become “wound up in a spool” where--in a final reckoning--the dark cavalcade of Nic’s disparate, obscure family secrets are eventually revealed.