Warning: if you suffer from depression, exercise caution when reading this novel. Couched in the mystery of a missing twelve-year-old boy, the novel is more a psychological study of a fragmenting mind than a thriller. Charlotte Dunleavy has moved to Pennsylvania from Manhattan after a shattering divorce. An artist hoping to final a renewal of her work in the country, Charlotte suffers from a migraine on the day Jesse goes missing, her interrogation with County Sheriff Mark Gatesman the next morning a series of disconnected impressions due to the effects of her condition: “I felt on the edge of something.”
A widower still grieving twelve years after the tragic death of his wife and child early in the marriage, Gatesman recognizes another damaged soul in Dunleavy, attracted to the woman’s quiet sadness that so mirrors his own. While the search for Jesse continues unabated, Silvis segues into the spiraling fear Charlotte experiences, alternating her terror with the despair of a sheriff unable to find peace with his pain. With the addition of the lost boy’s distraught mother, this triad of despair is complete but for the details.
By alternating interlocking stories inside the essential mystery of Jesse’s fate, the author attempts to add context to lives decimated by tragedy. There seems little hope of the boy’s recovery as the days pass, a fact that adds to the burden each carries. But Dunleavy is ever the star, her debilitating headaches and mental fugue state hinting at some knowledge of Jesse—but absent an interpreter, there is no way to make sense of Charlotte’s vague recall on that day of gunshots and screaming crows.
In emotional purges, the artist recalls the years with her ex-husband, his cruelty and the agony she suffered from his indifference, memories she seeks to subdue with alcohol and pills with some degree of success. The sheriff and Jesse’s mother serve as counterweights to Charlotte’s escalating confusion. She absorbs the sheriff’s kindness and the mother’s gratitude like a greedy child, albeit unworthy. Unfortunately, Charlotte remains an extremely unsympathetic character no matter how elaborately Silvis describes her mental gymnastics.
Clearly the intent is to draw the reader into Charlotte’s mind in search of answers. What does she remember? Did she see something? Spiraling out of control psychologically, this woman is so broken that it is difficult to imagine her as a whole individual or to care one way or the other. Whatever substance she may bring to the plot, the novel is painful to read, a long nightmare where morning never comes. Halfway through, the deeply unhappy Gatesman ponders, “What sadist created this existence?” My question: “What sadist created this novel? And why?” Dark material doesn’t bother me, but there is nothing to be learned here, no insight, no shared experience, only the long dark night of a tortured soul—or two.