3 Gripping New Books About Family Crimes
A heinous or extreme act perpetrated by a person close to us may make us question everything we know about our lives. It’s an enormous betrayal when the people we cherish and defend act in ways we never would have thought possible. Families and friendships are seriously tested in the new novels in this week’s book club; some won’t survive.
1. The Dead Ex by Jane Corry ($26): What do you do when a family member becomes an ex-family member, then goes missing? Vicki Goudman works from home as an aromatherapy practitioner, trying to calm her clients with mixtures of lavender and ylang-ylang. Her life suddenly becomes anything but relaxed, however, when at the end of a session she finds police at her door, telling her that her ex-husband has gone missing. Vicki and her husband David had a passionate but short marriage, in large part because she discovered he was also satisfying his passions elsewhere — with his assistant Tanya, who became his wife after Vicki was finally finished. David had used Vicki’s epilepsy and frequent memory lapses to formerly convince her of his innocence; any time she became suspicious, she was told that she had forgotten vital information.
This remains true after his disappearance, but it’s no longer David using her condition against her; now, people are convinced that she’s responsible for David’s disappearance, and she has no way of proving she hasn’t just forgotten what she’s done. Vicki’s story intersects with David and Tanya’s, but also with another woman dragged into accusations of crime; Scarlet Darling, the young daughter of Zelda, spends many afternoons playing a game where she pretends strange individuals are family members come to pick her up. She then receives tissues with money inside, and exchanges them with bags of “sugar.” The sugar is, of course, something more nefarious, and Scarlet is taken away from her mother to a tumultuous life in foster care. She seems likely to continue in the cycle that entrapped her mother. This all comes together in explaining David’s disappearance — but who is responsible?
“There it is again. The temptation to give away too much about yourself. You think you’re doing it to put them at their ease. But really, it’s giving in to your own need. Afterward, you regret it. The client feels awkward on the next visit. And so do you. It’s a business arrangement, not a friendship. So I hold back the longing to tell this woman that David and I would have been coming up to our sixth wedding anniversary in a few months. I also resist the temptation to remind myself that it is Valentine’s Day. That on our first — and only — one together he had given me a pair of crystal drop earrings, which I can no longer bring myself to wear. Instead, I breathe in the lavender and imagine it’s wrapped around my body like a protective cloak. ‘Sometimes,’ I say, kneading the stress knots, ‘you have to go through the dark to get to the light.’”
2. The Forgotten Hours by Katrin Schumann ($25): “A man comes toward them, whooping loudly, and dares them to jump into the lake. His laugh bounces over the water, off the pines on the opposite bank, and then back at them. He’s wearing faded pink-and-green swimming trunks, musty from being crammed in a drawer. Lulu is almost as tall as he is, and her hair touches his shoulder as he stands next to her, eyeing the spring-fed water. He is stocky and muscular, the hairs on his broad chest darker than the closely cropped hair on his head. ‘My beautiful girls,’ he says, though only one of them is his child. ‘Too cold for you?’ The other girl is his daughter, Katie — the slight one with the lank, midlength blonde hair. She feels as though she might burst when her father smiles at her. His approval is oxygen to her. It is always this way. Everyone wants to please him, make him laugh. She’d like to jump in to show him how tough she is, but she can’t.”
What do you do when a beloved family member is accused of the unthinkable? For years, best friends Katie Gregory and Lulu Henderson have met each summer at Eagle Lake, after the rest of the year spent apart. This intense but sporadic friendship helps them easily categorize how they have changed over the years, and in 2007, the year they turn 15, the changes are more pronounced in Lulu than ever. Then, Katie’s father John, who she idolizes, the life of the party and family protector, is charged with and convicted of raping Lulu. Stunned, Katie maintains her belief in her father’s innocence, but everything has changed. Even her memories are no longer safe from the warping influence of doubt and pain.
A decade later, John’s release date is set, and Katie finds her past revisiting her in full force. Now, she has to hide her father’s secret from her boyfriend and her workplace, while reporters, smelling a good story, circle closer and closer. When John asks her to open up their place on Eagle Lake once more, she finds documents (including ones from a former summer crush) that could change her mind about what happened that summer and during the trial. Katie has to re-evaluate her friendship with Lulu, her relationship with her father, and her own perceptions of reality.
3. Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard ($20): What do you do when your best friend tells you to keep a crime secret from your family? In Barnard’s YA novel, she explores the hazards of perfectionism and ultra-high expectations for teens. British 16-year-old Eden Rose McKinley was adopted into a loving family with two other children (one adopted, one biological) when she was nine. Known as an okay student, a little disruptive, but nothing major, she enjoys her stable relationship with the refreshingly un-macho Connor, who takes care of his mother with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Above all, though she finds balance in her best friend Bonnie, who she met nine years ago. Bonnie is the perfect young woman; she plays the flute, gets amazing grades, and is head prefect. So it’s a huge surprise when Eden’s studious friend goes missing one day — and has urged her not to say anything.
“This morning I got this message from my best friend, Bonnie: I’m doing it. I’m running away with Jack. EEEEEEKKK!!!!! Don’t tell anyone! Talk later! Xxx And by ‘this morning,’ I mean at 4:17am. Okay, I realize this might sound a bit alarming out of context. Especially with the whole police at the door thing. But when I read it a few hours after it was sent – bleary-eyed, still half asleep – I was just a bit confused, maybe a little annoyed, mostly because Bonnie and I had made plans to go to Canterbury today, and her unexpected bailing meant I was suddenly planless on a Saturday. She’d agreed that this would be our free day from studying, our chill-out day, practically the only time she’s allowed in the ridiculously strict study schedule she’s been sticking to since April. The first exam of our GCSEs, the exams we’ve been working toward for the last five years, the exams that — apparently — will decide our futures, is on Wednesday. Four days away. I replied just the way you might expect me to: Huh?”
Eden finds policemen in her kitchen, investigating Bonnie’s case. She knows Bonnie has run away, but she also knows that her best friend has sworn her to secrecy. Things change when she finds out who “Jack” is — Bonnie’s never-seen, potentially imaginary boyfriend turns out to be Jack Cohn, their 29-year-old music teacher. Eden is disturbed by the news but continues to adhere to her friend’s wishes, even when the adults are sure she knows something. As time goes on, she learns that there are different assumptions made about girls thought of as perfect, and those considered to be less so. In the meantime, she just wants Bonnie to come home.
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