Have you ever had one of those days where you took the morning off from your day job to drive out to the suburbs for an appointment with your eye doctor, only to arrive and find out that you don’t have an appointment after all–and the doctor isn’t even IN–and then after further investigation it turned out that when you called to make your appointment for March 2nd they made it for February 2nd? Yeah, that was how MY day started yesterday. So, I left with a new appointment for next Friday, which means taking ANOTHER morning off from work, and means I still don’t have my new contact lenses and my new glasses are still off somewhere in the future.
Honestly. It’s amazing there was no body count. Seriously. And, as always when something goes wrong in a day, everything else the rest of the day just seemed to go wrong, too. But today is going to be better.
Speaking of better, Alison Gaylin’s new novel comes out this week, and if you haven’t already preordered it, you need to do so. RIGHT NOW.
From the Facebook page of Jacqueline Merrick Reed.
October 24 at 2:45 am
By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.
This isn’t Jackie. It’s her son Wade. She doesn’t know where I am. She doesn’t even know I can get on her FB page, so don’t ask her. This isn’t her fault. I am not her fault.
I am writing to tell my mom and Connor that I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone. I wish I could tell you the truth of what happened, but it’s not my truth to tell. And anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters, what I want you both to know, is that I love you. Don’t feel sad. Everything you did was the right thing to do. I’m sorry for those things I said to you, Connor. I didn’t mean any of it.
Alison Gaylin has been nominated for an Edgar Award three times: Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Novel. (For the record, let it show there are many many horrible things I would do to be nominated once, let alone three times.) Her most recent novel, What Remains of Me, was a tour-de-force (Best Novel nominee), juggling two different time-lines as she told the story of two murders thirty years apart and yet connected. But somehow she has managed to surpass that novel with her latest, If I Die Tonight, which is powerful, compelling and beautifully written.
The book begins with the above Facebook post, which immediately pulls the reader into the story. Who is Wade? What is he talking about? Why is he going to kill himself? And from there, the book goes back to five days earlier, where the story truly begins. Jackie, mentioned in the post, is a single mother, estranged from her ex-husband and his current wife. The father of her two children has also pretty much abdicated any responsibility for his sons, other than the monthly check. Jackie is a realtor, and struggles to make ends meet. Her eldest son Wade is her primary worry: over the last few years he has withdrawn, become more insular, barely speaks to her. Friends don’t stop by to visit him or hang out, he doesn’t leave the house much. He is also no longer close to his younger brother, Connor. Jackie’s co-worker at the real estate agency is also her best friend; Wade used to be infatuated with her daughter but is no longer.
The peace and quiet of this little town in the Hudson Valley, Havenkill, is abruptly shattered in the early hours of a weekend morning when an attempted carjacking ends with a popular young athlete at the high school, Liam, hospitalized in critical condition; he and a friend came to the rescue of the woman being carjacked, but the car was stolen anyway and the comatose boy was run over. Who would do such a thing? The woman in the car is a one-hit wonder from the 80’s, Aimee En, and yet pieces of her story don’t make sense. What happened that night? And when Liam dies and it becomes a murder investigation, Jackie becomes increasingly more terrified that Wade was involved somehow.
Gaylin’s mastery of character is on full display in this novel; every character is real, believable, and alive. Even when they behave in ways that are either self-destructive or selfish, it makes sense and fits with the character; no one ever does anything that doesn’t make sense in order to advance the narrative. The plot is devilishly complex and layered, with twists and turns that make the truth almost impossible for the reader to ferret out. Gaylin makes you care for and understand every character, even if you don’t approve of what they’re doing.
But the heart of this novel, its true theme, is the relationships between parent and child. Jackie and Wade, police detective Pearl Maze and her estranged father, her co-worker Helen and her daughter–every step along the way Gaylin is examining those relationships: what goes wrong between them? Can distance, once it develops, be overcome? What is and isn’t acceptable for a parent to accept from their child in terms of behavior, and vice versa? How well can a parent know a child, and vice versa? What is enough space, and what is too much?
And every twist in this novel is earned, as it barrels along to its satisfying conclusion.
This is going to be one of the top books of the year; in fact, 2018 has–with Gaylin’s, Laura Lippman’s Sunburn, and Alafair Burke’s The Wife–already gotten off to an amazing start for crime fiction, and there’s a Megan Abbott coming this summer. If these women are indicative of how high the bar is being risen in crime fiction…it’s going to be a great year in our genre.