my monster roots are showing again. i am in the lonesome minority with this book, which has moved everyone but me to tears and praise. don’t get me wrong, i did not dislike it, but 1) i
never rarely cry at books, and 2) my tastes run darker than this book.
“but…it’s about the kidnapping and abuse of sally horner, the 11-year-old girl nabokov wrote that book about. is that not dark?”
yes, that’s true. and while the subject matter is horrifying, the treatment of it is not. the use of the third person POV is part of it; the reader is already somewhat distanced from the situation, and the horrors are further diffused by employing multiple third-person POVs throughout the novel, where the shape of the story isn’t “these are the things happening to this little girl right now,” but “these are the ways in which a girl going missing affects those who knew her.” short answer, mostly guilt.
the actual abuse scenes are mostly written around, so it is less horrific than it could be (for the reader), and sally manages to find small moments of comfort and companionship as she’s being dragged across the country by her abductor.
my biggest takeaway from this (because it feels weird to say ‘the thing i most enjoyed‘) were the specifics of the real-life case, about which i knew nothing before reading this. although many many scenes were invented for narrative impact, the things that i believe were factual are surprising – that her mother handed her over to this man, that he allowed her to attend school(s) on their way across the country without her escaping or asking for help, and her ultimate fate (which i accidentally learned when i was just a few pages from encountering it in the book – oops).
the ease with which sally was manipulated by this man is horrifying and frustrating and makes you want to grab a time travel machine and create a million NO! GO! TELL! PSAs all over the past, and the one-after-another ways she was let down by well-intentioned, would-be rescuers (although i believe they were all apocryphal) are even more frustrating.
i just never felt drawn into this book, and while that’s probably a relief for most readers, considering the subject matter, it didn’t work for me. i already read at an emotional reserve because of my robot sensibilities, so it doesn’t bother me to look tragedy in the eye, and i tend to prefer overkill and melodrama to tasteful restraint.
i’m glad i read it, because i do think it is going to be a big deal book and a popular choice for book clubs. it held my interest and made me more inclined to read The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World when it comes out in september, and any book that leads you to another book is a winner in my eyes.
review to come.