I thoroughly enjoyed McMahon’s Dismantled and was anticipating another such thriller in Don't Breathe a Word. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in a transparent plot that smacks of otherworldliness but fails to deliver any real substance.
Alternating chapters are strictly divided between present day and fifteen years ago. The scene is set in Vermont’s forested Northeast Kingdom, where adolescent Lisa and her cousin Evie are seduced by family stories of a ghost town and a fairy kingdom - where the real troubles facing the girls evaporate in a blur of imagination - until Lisa disappears, never to be seen again.
Fifteen years later, Phoebe, now thirty-five, is living with Lisa’s younger brother, Sam, twenty-five, who has yet to reveal the dark secrets of his past. Then a phone call changes everything. A whispery voice claims to be Lisa, back from the land of the fairies. The present becomes a frantic search for the truth, a morass of lies and intentional misinformation as Phoebe and Sam run around interviewing relatives and old acquaintances who can remember anything about the circumstances of Lisa’s disappearance. But any progress they make is abruptly jolted to a stop by the next chapter, which returns to the summer of Lisa’s fairy enchantment.
The novel proceeds in this fashion, even Phoebe’s motives suspect as she withholds information from Sam, doubts his veracity and generally slips into paranoia as the farcical and defunct details are revealed. The fact that there is an explanation for events - not mythology - is irrelevant as McMahon closes with homage to Rosemary’s Baby that is no doubt meant to leave the reader wondering. I am left wondering as well - why this clumsy tale has garnered so many positive reviews in the press. There is such a difference between this novel and Dismantled, a tight plot versus one riddled with holes, that I am left feeling frustrated and duped, anxious to finish.
This novel is definitely written for a niche market, one rife with contenders for gullible young readers. But McMahon is an able writer with a proven record and I hope she will return to her usual quality in the next outing. All little girls entertain notions of fairies, but few of them actually walk away from real life to - what? Here is the problem: there is no logical explanation. There is an answer, but it is vile and borderline unbelievable, the tinkling bells of Lisa’s memory turned to the somber tones of a funeral dirge.