Don't Look for Me
Wendy Walker
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Buy *Don't Look for Me* by Wendy Walker online

Don't Look for Me
Wendy Walker
St. Martin's Press
352 pages
September 2020
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Walker shapes her narrative around the death of a child, a mother haunted by her past mistakes, and a daughter haunted by her anger. Molly lives with her husband, John, son Evan, and elder daughter Nicole. After a decade of grieving, Molly has finally acknowledged that her youngest daughter has gone for all time. Driving on a suitably stormy night, Molly sees the Gas N' Go up ahead. As the storm turns into a hurricane, Molly seeks to drive right into its path. She thinks of her family, sweet Evan and beloved Annie. Today is the anniversary of his death. Five years ago on this day, Molly lost her youngest child. She was nine years old when she ran into the road.

While Molly tries not to think of Annie ("I will not go backward. I will go forward."), Nic blames herself for her mother's mental state of mind. For years, Nic blamed her mother for her sister's death, but with her mother suddenly missing, Nic considers that perhaps it's her fault that Molly is in the hole created by Annie, her grief and her alcohol abuse, and because not everyone can "just get over it."

Grief spins violently in Molly's head. She's convinced herself that she's a bad mother: "there's no way around it - she let a child die." As the rain comes quickly, Molly finds herself at the entrance to the Gas N' Go, more determined to never be a burden to Evan, Nicole and John: "I am a burden to them now because they don't love me. Because they can't love me." Molly had been living the ideal life, but Annie's death has left her unfulfilled, not so much a loyal wife and mother as a hollow, lonely woman.

Moving between Molly and Nic's voices, Walker constructs a bifurcated thriller. Nic frantically tries to recreate Molly's last moments at Hastings Pass, the road that leads to the town and on which Molly was last seen. As each day passes, Nic becomes increasingly anxious that her mother has been abducted. It starts with the strange call from Edith Clarke, rattling off her sighting that Molly was last seen outside Hastings Inn, her car abandoned just before the gas station. Edith saw a dark-colored pickup truck that stopped, then Molly got in.

With a million dollars reward offer for Molly's safe return, Nic tries everything she can to call out her mother. She's sorry for her attitude toward her mother and the nights before and the nights to come: "She's sorry for so many nights since Annie died." Nic and her father have been there with the search parties. In Hastings, the days had become a blur of images, rough, cold air and still cornstalks. Nic fights with remnants from the past, fragments of memories about a devoted mother who could never cause her children to suffer by leaving them. According to Chief Watkins, the absence of new evidence suggests Molly covered her tracks. Nic is drawn to Chief Watkins, to Daisy Hollander, Reyes and Booth and handsome barman Kurt Kent.

Molly is being held hostage, her captor distant, refusing to answer questions. Molly is terrified. Luckily, she has the little girl Alice to keep her company. She tells Alice her about the little girl who died, hit by a car on the street when she was also nine. Molly's ability to sympathize with Alice allows her to define deceased Annie. Molly's story is a timeline that divides the before and after: "Before our child died, after our child died." Perhaps Molly's message is that love doesn't dare try to cross to the new people we have become.

While Molly thinks about the possibilities in the long hours, Nic tries to obtain the cameras at the Gas N' Go and the traffic stop, the online information from Annie's death. Walker exquisitely draws Molly, trying to escape the guilt of Annie's death. Her relationship with Alice brims with desperation. At first, Nic is constrained by her anger, unwilling to relinquish her memories of the terrible accident. She turns to Reyes, the tortured soul who truly understands her and who might be strong enough to save her from herself. Reyes comes across as the damaged man who used women the way she used men and who might draw her into his despair as well as her own.

With its profound sense of suspense, Don't Look for Me is essentially a story of sorrow and forgiveness. In Nic and Molly's alternating voices, Walker's mystery captures the heart of each woman's challenges while the climax offers some "surprises," leading to a much-needed reconciliation--but not without death's collateral damage.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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