If they gave an award for best creative fiction loosely constructed on a ripped from the headlines horrific news event, the winner would surely be a close tie between Jodi Picoult and Joy Fielding. New York Times best-selling author Joy Fielding is at her best here in She’s Not There, sure to be a summer slam dunk on dozens of bestseller lists. She’s Not There is the one that would right now top my list of MUST HAVE beach reads for late winter vacation, March break or cottage season.
Last night when I finished She’s Not There, I wondered to myself why this novel resonated so much with me and why I couldn’t put it down. I came to the conclusion at about 1:30 a.m. that both Fielding reminds me of my favourite author Jodi Picoult in this novel. Both can be experts at spinning a real life event into a creatively re-envisioned page turner. I have adored Picoult from the start and in fact have only in the last couple of years come to really enjoy Fielding. I had high hopes for this Fielding novel. She’s Not There did not disappoint.
“I think my real name is Samantha. I think I’m your daughter.”
Fifteen years have passed from the week at a resort in Mexico when celebrating their anniversary with friends and relatives, Caroline and Hunter make the choice to leave their two daughters inside their hotel room. They both leave the table at half hour intervals to check on the kids and return to their last night at the resort celebration. Until, the last time Caroline returns to the room to check and finds that her two-year-old daughter is missing.
There are obvious similarities to the Madeleine McCann case in which a 3-year-old girl went missing while her parents dined 50 metres away at a holiday resort in Portugal. That case captured global attention. So too does the fictional case of Samantha Shipley.
This is the story, told in alternating chapters of current time action interspersed with snapshots of the years that have gone by. There were three other couples with the Shipley’s at the resort in Mexico when their baby went missing, one of whom was Shipley’s brother Steve and his wife Becky, an infertile couple. Becky and Steve’s marriage is on the rocks. Hunter and Caroline’s marriage is seemingly perfect until that night when the baby goes missing and each one starts to blame the other for her disappearance. Their older daughter Michelle, 5 at the time of the child’s disappearance eventually leaves the resort to return home with the father Hunter and stays with her grandmother Mary. The rest of the guests depart but the Mom is unable to leave Mexico, which is not that far from her home in southern California, but nonetheless places a dramatic distance between her and the rest of her family.
Over the coming years as Samantha continues to remain lost to the family, Caroline is made into a pariah, raked through the coals by media for every single small behaviour. She is blamed, investigated, called cold and calculating. Her husband, a well to do lawyer does not receive the same media scrutiny. Caroline, a former math teacher struggles, as Michelle spirals angrily out of control and becomes a defiant miserable young woman feeling keenly the absence of her sister at all times.
So who is to blame? Did someone take Samantha? Did she climb out of the crib and wander off? Could her sister have hurt her? Did her Mom or Dad hurt her? Did someone on staff at the resort sneak in that night and take the child? All of these questions remain unanswered and Caroline is targeted over the years by half a dozen scam artists pretending to be her missing daughter. If only the could have a few thousand dollars to fly across the country to prove they were Samantha. Unable to move on, even after 15 years, Caroline is at least holding down a job as a teacher again when a phone call comes from a young woman named Lili living in Canada. And then suddenly everyone’s life is thrown back into turmoil. Is she an imposter? Is she Samantha?
I’m not going to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this psychological thriller a great deal. It’s one of the best books I have read in many months. I am now a full fledged Joy Fielding fan and in fact spent today hunting down more of her novels at the local library. I can’t wait to see what Fielding comes out with next. She’s Not There was fantastic! Plus can I just add that I enjoyed the level of consistent suspense maintained here without gratuitous sex or violence. She’s Not There has a great plot and was thoroughly enjoyable.
She’s Not There, by Joy Fielding is available from DoubleDay Canada/ Penguin Random House. It was published this past month 2016 and is 355 pages at $22.95. It is a must read for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.