Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Where They Found Her.
Although I didn’t read Reconstructing Amelia, there were so many positive reviews of that title that I thought this new novel might be worth reading. Afterward, I returned to the
Reconstructing Amelia reviews and found similar comments to my reaction to this title. Since I rarely begin a review with such a sideways introduction, I felt it necessary to qualify my remarks about a novel I assume will get raves from fans of this author but has little appeal for me, inducing a high level of frustration. Comparisons to
Gone Girl have to stop. (If you see such comparisons on book covers, run!)
The “mystery” is set in the small
university town of Ridgedale, New Jersey, where Molly Sanderson is a reporter for a local newspaper,
The Ridgedale Reader. Though she has little actual experience as a journalist, Molly is anxious to get to work after the loss of a baby, toddler Ella needing her mother’s attention after a long, slow recovery and serious bout of depression. With husband Justin teaching at the university, Molly feels it is time. Unfortunately, her first assignment is a story about a dead body found on a riverbank--an infant as it turns out. Molly is disturbed but determined to stick it out and move past her personal issues.
Two other characters flesh out what is essentially a three-part perspective on the child’s death and a series of campus rapes. Sandy is a high school dropout caring for
her addled mother, Jenna, who is dually addicted to drugs and men. Barbara is a domineering PTA president with a teen daughter, Hanna, and young son, Cole. Her husband is the Ridgedale Chief of Police in charge of the case of the dead baby girl. McCreight juggles these three lives--Molly, Barbara and Sandy--each personal story evolving to dovetail at the end and finally provide answers to a number of questions originating with the infant’s death but expanded by other research Molly trips over along the way.
For me, the problem is twofold: McCreight’s simple prose style (women’s fiction lite) and characters whose degree of personal dysfunction makes them stereotypical and easy to dislike, let alone care about as the story moves forward. All are predictable and one-dimensional, drama on the level you would expect to encounter on a daytime soap opera. Add in the ugly complication of a baby’s death and a series of campus rapes (murder! rape! drugs! betrayal!) and nobody is left standing, no one free of the taint that settles like a miasma over this small town and those involved in the shoddy affairs.
The plotline is weak, built on the failings and personal tragedies of the main characters rather than on their strengths, compassion virtually non-existent. Scenes go from one shocking revelation to the next until all the cards are on the table and no one wins, but everybody has a losing hand. It’s easy to exploit tragedy and human weakness, much more challenging to raise the downtrodden from the path of least resistance and allow them the courage to change. For a serious contemporary drama with teeth and lessons about humanity, might I suggest Tana
French’s The Secret Place?