Published by St. Martin's Press on August 8th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Psychological
Source: NetGalley, St. Martin's Press
Buy on Amazon
We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I do know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it.
Three years ago, high-school senior Emma Tanner and her 15-year-old sister Cassandra went missing. Investigators had little evidence to go on; all they knew was that there were two missing girls and an abandoned car at the beach. The case went unsolved, but Cass has returned home, seemingly out of thin air. She insists that Emma is still out there and she knows how to find her.
FBI psychologist Dr. Abigail Winter was haunted by the Tanner case. During the course of the investigation, she began to see shades of her own narcissistic mother in Judy Martin. She believed that the girls’ mother may have been involved in their disappearance, but no one else was receptive to her theory. The case brought some of her old traumas back to the surface. Could she have been letting her personal life cloud her perception? Cass’s mysterious reappearance may finally let her get some closure.
“Everyone I could ever trust, everyone you could ever trust, could betray you. It doesn’t matter who they are or whether they mean to do it. Your friends. Your husband. Your wife. Your siblings. Your child. Even your parents. Some people just do it and they don’t care. They don’t think twice about it. But others do it and they justify it in their heads so you can’t even blame them. They have their reasons.”
The mother’s narcissism leads to an interesting dynamic between the sisters. Each girl developed their own unique way of coping. Growing up, their home was filled with constant hostility. There was little stability in their lives because the sisters never knew which version of their mother they would wake up to. They were both desperate for their mother’s love and Mrs. Martin made them earn it. She always made snide comments to remind the girls of their place in the house. She couldn’t stand for her daughters to become close and potentially form an alliance against her, so she set out to drive a wedge between them. Emma was one of the only people Cass could depend on, but she could also be extremely cruel, rubbing their mother’s favoritism in Cass’s face.
I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, and say to you or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.
Cassandra shares a name with a figure from Greek mythology, a princess of Troy who had “the gift of prophecy but the curse that her prophecies would never be believed.” Cass shared that same burden during her parents’ custody battle. She knew that living with her mother and stepfather would end badly for everyone involved, but she learned the hard way that “seeing the future is a worthless gift if you don’t have the power to change it.” Emma talked Cass into testifying against their mother, but in a cruel twist, Emma ended up siding with their mother. Mrs. Martin easily won custody of the girls and would never forgive Cass’s betrayal. Cass lost her status in the home and Emma became the preferred daughter.
A story is more than the recounting of events. The events are the sketch, the outline, but it is the colors and the landscape and the medium and the artist’s hand that make it what it is in the end. I had to be a good artist. I had to find talent where none existed and this story in a way they would believe. I had to set aside my own feelings about the past. … I had to be the person they wanted me to be.
The chapters alternate between Cass and Dr. Winter. Throughout the book, Cass reveals the events of the last three years. She insists that her mother is present to hear every detail. There’s something strange about the way Cass tells her story. The emotions she displays don’t always match the events she’s describing. Her demeanor is calm as she describes the last three years in horrifying detail. Her storytelling is very precise and polished. Sometimes Cass comes across like a child, but other times she seems wise beyond her years. Occasionally, Cass glances at Dr. Winter and there’s a flicker of recognition between them. Dr. Winter begins to wonder if she needs to begin paying more attention to the things that aren’t being said.
I read the first 40% in one sitting, but I had a hard time settling back into the story the next day. I think it’s because all the different elements are jumbled together, regardless of whose chapter you’re in: the search for Emma, Dr. Winter’s backstory, the story Cass is telling the detectives, and the story she’s telling the reader. Not being able to maintain that immersion is sometimes a dealbreaker for me, but Walker’s writing still captivated me. I value a story where the author takes me from feeling one way about a character to feeling completely opposite by the end of the story. Despite the messed up things that went on in Cass’s home, I found her demeanor a bit off-putting at first. There was a moment when I began understanding her behavior and motivations (right or wrong), and that’s when this story started to worm its way into my heart.
There is evil in the world and that evil can dress up as love so convincingly that it blinds you to the truth.
Cass describes herself as “a bird on the battlefield.” She spent her entire life being caught between forces much more powerful than herself. She’s been let down by all the adults in her life. Anyone who listened to her was powerless to do anything. Cass has to be the person everyone wants her to be in order to get the people with power to finally listen to her. Could this be her one chance to finally be heard? Is she even telling the truth? Will the investigators find Emma in time? This stirring tale shows how easily our perceptions can be manipulated and how sometimes people have to be tricked into seeing the truth. Just like a narcissist has to create a perfect alter ego to protect themselves, sometimes we have to find ways to maintain the realities we’ve constructed to prevent our worldview from being shattered.
The more literary writing style of this book reminded me of Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia. If you’re looking for more books with narcissistic mothers, you might enjoy Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas.