Let’s get this out of the way: Aubrey Hamilton talks to herself. Legally declared widow of Josh, who disappeared five years earlier, Aubrey has made her way back from police target as the killer (due to a five million dollar life insurance policy in Josh’s name) and a nervous breakdown.
Her most recent--and healthier--addiction is to running when overwhelmed… and talking to herself as she begins to suspect that Josh may really be alive. No matter what the time frame, Before (Josh) or After (Josh), Aubrey carries on a constant dialog with herself, like a big sister cautioning against rash decisions. The thing is, she always refers to herself as
"Aubrey" in these conversations, over and over, Aubrey, Aubrey, Aubrey, as if she could forget her own name.
Now her arch-enemy, Daisy Hamilton, Josh’s mother, is determined to challenge Aubrey’s right to the money in court. Daisy, who hates her daughter-in-law with every fiber of her being, talks to herself as well--in between shots of ice cold vodka she keeps in the refrigerator. Daisy (Daisy, Daisy) hasn’t been able to recover from Josh’s death, her hatred of Aubrey exacerbated by all the years her son pursued this girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Josh is her beloved, generous son, viewed from the same lofty perspective as that of his wife. Neither woman can ever perceive the perfect Joshua Hamilton negatively. Now it is only a matter of days until Josh’s life insurance policy pays off, Aubrey ready to collect her jackpot.
Even after five years, Josh haunts every page of this tale, present in the lives of widow and mother, from the friends who worry Aubrey might be drawn again into depression and self-harm to Daily’s enabling husband, Tom. It is no surprise, then, when a drunken Daisy drives by Aubrey’s house, loses control of her vehicle, and veers into the corner of the building. Her mother-in-law in critical condition, Aubrey is drawn to Daisy’s bedside where she shares a vigil with Tom, knowing Josh would want her to do what she can in spite of the years of enmity between them. (One of the most humorous parts of the novel is when Daisy recovers consciousness and sees Aubrey at her bedside but is unable to speak because of her injuries.)
There is an expanding cast of characters as the day of the insurance disbursement draws near: Chance, the journalist who falls hopelessly in love with Aubrey (Aubrey, Aubrey) despite her complicated past; Meghan, Aubrey’s friend, who assists the widow on a frantic search to prove Josh is dead in spite of the declaration of death; Ed Hardsten, Josh’s absentee birth father; Derek Allen, a killer masquerading as a private detective who believes Josh is alive and
that Aubrey will lead him to the elusive prey; and Aubrey’s foster brother, Tyler, a junkie trying to go straight and too often losing the battle.
The chapters segue from present to past and various periods in between, Ellison positioning her glib cast for the final act of their drama. The mystery skitters over the surface, a facile tale built more on plot twists than characters development, not quite engaging, all suspect and everyone prone to the luxury of self-delusion, especially
Aubrey, Aubrey, Aubrey.