Promising set-up

How many times have you started a book review with the words “It had a promising set-up”? You probably already know that the next word in that sentence is “but…” Yes, I’m back to suspense novels that don’t pay off. Maybe I need to switch genres for a while.

I picked up Have You Seen Me? by Kate White because the plot summary reminded me of What Alice Forgot, by Lynne Moriarty, a book I enjoyed quite a bit. In this one the protagonist, Ally, is only missing two days (not 10 years) of her life, but I love the way the writer starts it off, with her showing up to work in the morning only to realize that she hasn’t been employed by that company for five years. She faints and is sent to the hospital, and when she wakes up she gradually recalls her current life (including the husband who temporarily slipped her mind in favor of the boyfriend who ran the company where she went that morning), but can’t piece together where she has been since Monday night (it’s now Thursday morning).

Events take a logical progression as she has a psych eval, checks in with her own therapist, searches for missing belongings, calls her brother and friends to see if she has had contact with them during her blackout, and eventually decides to hire a private detective to back-trace her movements and put it all together. But this makes it sound pretty straightforward, when in fact the book meanders repetitively through Ally’s experiences to the point of shrieking boredom: Every time she discovers a new fact, she tells her husband, her brother, her best friend, her therapist, and her private investigator, and the reader “gets” to sit through all the explanations and then hear each reaction in turn (most of them both unsatisfactory and unhelpful to Ally). The author was also unnecessarily parochial about such psychological terms as “dissociative fugue state” and “rigor mortis”—I think we have all watched enough TV that it would be a miracle if we didn’t know the definitions already!

In contrast to all this excruciating detail, there are areas that are left vague (one can only assume purposefully) that should have been the absolute first places that the investigation went: Number one, her husband is acting super weird—aloof, unsympathetic, and largely unavailable. If I were Ally, the first thing I would do is rule out Hugh by either having a frank talk with him or getting perspective from people who know and are in contact with him (work colleagues, friends, etc.). Instead, she alternately obsesses or ignores. Number two, if you turned up after two blank days with bloody tissues in your pocket and it is determined that the blood isn’t yours, wouldn’t that be your primary focus before such details as where you ate lunch or who you talked to on the phone while you were “gone”? It would be mine, but that fact is brought up briefly and then ignored for the rest of the book until the ending. Number three, the way events unfold and the reasoning behind them regarding the fate of the private investigator is just outrageously bad. Number four, her supposed best friend is constantly MIA, first because she is out of town and then because she gets the flu. When Ally catches her in a lie, this should have been the lead-in to something significant, but instead it’s dropped with a ridiculous explanation. This is the case for so many characters/red herrings, both major and minor: the intern who drops hints about the ex-boyfriend, the intern’s friend who seems to know Hugh a little too well, the ex-boyfriend who hasn’t spoken to her in five years but is suddenly calling her a couple of times a day, the unaccountable feeling of unease she gets that her therapist is purposely steering her away from certain truths, her brother’s new wife’s backstabbing…any and all of these could and should have led somewhere—anywhere! I guess I just should have said “don’t get me started” instead of writing all of this!

And let’s talk about that ending without giving it away: After all the drama, the sleuthing, the surprise details, the fractured relationships, the horrifying events past and present, you’re telling me THAT is how you end this? Sure, I guess it’s possible, but plausible? Given the exceedingly awkward treatment of that whole aspect of the book, this was perhaps the least convincing (and most disappointing) conclusion.

Do I even need to type the words? Not recommended. Despite some inexplicable five-star ratings on Goodreads. Trust me.

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