Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Then She Was Gone.
Jewell offers a new twist on the plotline of lost children and the families that break apart in the painful aftermath. Though she uses unconventional situations, the weight of the novel is still carried by the central tragedy, changing perspectives hinting at an unexpected resolution. In 2005, when Ellie Mack, the youngest of three children, fails to return home from school one day, the nightmare begins. Laurel Mack, Ellie's mother, begins a vigil that entails endless waiting while police search for the missing child, the sightings that prove false, the lack of evidence of foul play, the tolerant, unhelpful reports as the case grows cold with no results.
Laurel engages in a dark dance of despair. A lonely husband, already abandoned, fades away. Ellie's siblings become mere shadows once the favored child is gone. In time, a body is discovered and put to rest. The remaining family members drift apart, Laurel moving from the cluttered framework of family home to an apartment with nowhere for memories to accumulate. Laurel speaks to her son on the phone from time to time and quietly cleans her oldest daughter's flat, thinking often how Hanna never seems to smile anymore. Even Ellie's boyfriend, Theo Goodman, has had to surrender his dreams of a future, rejoining a world that has its own demands.
It is Laurel who bears the grief, every day weighted with Ellie's loss. When Laurel meets a stranger in a neighborhood café, she is content to savor the company of a kind man. He welcomes her into his family, including his motherless teen daughter and his youngest, who reminds Laurel of Ellie. This child captures Laurel's heart, a girl who looks so like her lost daughter, seems so familiar. Embraced by this new family, hope returns--but a seed is planted as well. Happiness is too easy to claim, too perfect to last. There is a mystery to explore, a secret to learn.
Jewell writes sympathetically, capturing Laurel Mack's spiraling grief, her tentative steps forward, her disbelief at the promise of happiness. The portrait is accurate, familiar to women's fiction. But Laurel is not compelling, even when thrown into a mystery she must solve. In changing circumstances, forced to decipher a man's intentions, she falls into purple prose, the panic of the unfamiliar: "Is he going to scam her, rape her, abduct her, stalk her? Is he mad? Is he bad?" She asks these questions absent threat, imagining the worst of every situation. Though her suspicion seems overblown, it is just as well Laurel be prepared, the clever twists ahead demanding all the courage she can muster, the plot kicking in on the home stretch.