I’ve read plenty of books with unsympathetic narrators but this is one of the perishing few where I could sympathize with our protagonist even as I lacked any empathy for her. Grace Wright is, in temperament, my exact opposite. She has a fixed idea of how things should be, and reacts poorly when things go wrong. She’d rather take medication than undergo therapy, and is an enthusiastic helicopter parent who resents her kids, especially since divorcing the husband who cheated on her. She’s overwhelmed even before she discovers that her neighbor is a suspect in the disappearance of five year-old Ava Boone. Sleep-deprived and constantly scouring the Internet on a quest for how to fix everything in her life, she’s a mess. And then she thinks she sees Ava in the window of the house next door.
What follows is a hallucinatory descent into, if not quite the madness, then the definite temporary psychosis of a modern woman trying to keep it all together, to be the woman she thinks she’s “supposed” to be even as her mental and emotional health degrade, in no large part due to her own reactionary choices. Grace has little impulse control and cannot stop from making bad decisions, spurred on by a social milieu that tells her she shouldn’t compromise, that she only needs to lean in, to try harder while depriving her of the supportive framework to do that. Confused and anxious, she chooses paranoia at every turn. Frankly, she’s a QAnon cultist waiting to happen — certain passages, particularly the ones about falling down Internet rabbit holes and being obsessed with protecting children from strangers, remind me of profiles I’ve read of true believers.
And yet, I couldn’t write her off, because she reminds me of real, vulnerable people I know and love: funny, intelligent people intent on ruining their own lives and stubbornly insistent on being right to do so. Sharon Doering has written a remarkably lived-in tale of a woman who would be a terrific sleuth if she weren’t almost completely out of her mind. I kept wanting to tell Grace that she needs a) sleep, and b) therapy (including couples counseling because it didn’t seem like she and her ex-husband even tried to repair their marriage before splitting up,) but she’s the kind of person who only seeks out positive reinforcement for her self-destructive behavior. And maybe more than self-destructive, as she keeps inserting herself into the case of the disappearance of Ava Boone, even after a brutalized body is found.
This is not the book for people who need to like their protagonists. Grace suuuuuucks and I would make about 5% of her choices, but Ms Doering writes her so well, laying down her fevered thinking and raw emotions bare on the page, that it’s hard to look away. If I had to tag myself in the book, I’d definitely be a Jason, who hopes she gets better. That Grace is also the narrator of not one but two tricky murder mysteries renders this a virtuoso performance of a novel that’s meant to be uncomfortable for people like myself, but also perhaps relatable for people who might need the help and, as a result of seeing themselves in this book, seek it out.
We were lucky enough to be able to interview Ms Doering for her insightful and often charming thoughts on motherhood, time management and persistence. Click here to read the interview.
She Lies Close by Sharon Doering was published in the US today, November 10th, 2020, and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.