Reviewed in the United States on April 1, 2021
Eight Years After Disappearing In The Hopes Of Helping Her Ex-Boyfriend Get Some Closure And Move On. Plagued By Darkness, She Had Left Him & Her Family Behind. The Past Is A Mystery; Several Events Are Pivotal But Unclear. The Story Is Written In Shades Of Grey, Not In Black & White.
The story opens in early June. It takes place in Monarch Falls, New Jersey.
Grace McMullen, thirty, enjoys travelling the world, moving whenever she has the itch for something new. She is currently living in Portland, but wonders if her next stop might bring her to the East Coast, maybe Charlotte. She can work from home wherever she is, so there is nothing tying her down. She is an internet sanitizer, removing things that clients don’t want online. Her part-time college job for a search engine led to a full-time job working on private assignments for Watchers and Guardians. Her online moniker is Watcher Girl. She sees the dark underbelly of the internet, things so ugly it makes her sick. Her boss, Jonah, sends her assignments and the pay is good, allowing her to maintain her lifestyle and independence.
Her mother is locked away in prison where she has been for twenty years. It has been ten years since Grace visited her, and there was nothing warm and fuzzy about that visit. The publication of a true crime novel titled Domestic Illusions: The Daphne McMullen Story had her mother’s fingerprints all over it, even though the book was written by a best-selling author. Although much of the book was self-serving, it was only with its publication that Grace, and the world, had finally learned some important pieces of the past. Grace’s biggest fear in life is that she might become like her mother. That she might destroy everything in a moment of uncontrolled outrage, that in her desperation to hold on she might blow everything up.
Now divorced, her father continues to cycle through women, sort of like Grace changes zip codes. Graham McMullen lives his life almost untouched by the past. It disgusts Grace. Marnie Gotlieb had not been the first woman that her father had strayed with, but his philandering ways had finally pushed the otherwise perfect Daphne over the edge.
Bliss Diamond, forty-six, is his current girlfriend. She is a psychotherapist, a Princeton grad, and an author, but currently makes her living as a social media influencer. She is into meditation and new age hippie things. She is hard to dislike, but there is something mysterious about her. Grace’s research can’t find anything on her beyond the last eighteen years.
Grace has two younger siblings. Sebastian is in law school and is on the road to success. Her sister Rose is just three years younger, but the girls are worlds apart. Rose is her mother’s spitting image, perfect in every way. She is an influencer. She makes her money on her overpriced perfect image. Grace could overlook all that, but it is Rose’s staunch support of Daphne that keeps her guarded. Rose is lovely and kind, and she grew up shadowing Grace. It would be wonderful if they could be closer, if Grace could have a confidant. But Grace has always felt like an outsider.
Sarah Thomas may have had some issues, but the former nanny had been the only one to make Grace feel special growing up. Grace still has mixed feelings about how that all went down. There are lingering questions about Autumn Carpenter that Sarah may be able to answer, but years of looking for her have turned up nothing.
Returning to her father’s house on Magnolia Drive after eight years of absence is sure to trigger a few questions. Grace walked away from her family after her senior year of college, never to look back. Her mother never knew how to handle her growing up, and her siblings were always perfect. Grace always felt like the outsider she really was. Even after her mother went to prison, things at home had been difficult. Nana Greta had moved in to help out, but ten year old Grace soon found herself sent to live with Grandma Janet down in Florida. While Sebastian and Rose enjoyed a privileged life in New Jersey, Grace shared her grandmother’s condo and worked a minimum wage job. Even with Daphne in prison, Grace couldn’t avoid feeling like she didn’t really belong.
But Grace isn’t back for a family reunion. She is there on a mission. Sutton Whitlock was a casualty of Grace’s decision to walk away from everything eight years ago. They had almost four years together in college. Sutton was perfect, and he would have provided her with the perfect life. But Grace ruins everything that is perfect. She cannot help herself once she gets that dark urge. So to save him from being ruined by her, she spared him further damage. But in discovering what had become of Sutton since she left, she felt plagued by guilt. Her return home is a mission – to help Sutton move on and let go.
As it turns out, Sutton had gotten a job in Grace’s hometown, thirty miles from where they went to school together at Rutgers. He bought a house on Lakemont Street, just three blocks from Grace’s childhood home. He went on to marry a woman that looks strikingly similar to Grace. And he named his young daughter Grace. Grace is home to help him, but when she ends up meeting his wife, Campbell, the mission is upended.
Wow! This story has you on the edge of your seat throughout. The past is a mystery. There are several events that are pivotal but unclear. There is the issue of Daphne losing it after one too many indiscretions by Graham. It isn’t clear if that is settled history or if it plays into other events. There is the issue of Sarah Thomas and her obsession with the family. Her involvement may have strictly been a symptom of her mental illness, but her connection to Autumn Carpenter opens a new can of worms. Nobody knows what happened to her, and the father of her baby remains a mystery. Again, whether that plays into other issues or is simply settled history remains unclear. How Graham could have allowed for Grace to be sent away for essentially nearly half of her childhood is almost unfathomable to consider. But after all the rejection that Grace felt her entire life, that she spent four wonderful years in love with Sutton is a mystery in itself. It almost sounds like she had turned out alright, which begs the question: was there an event that triggered Grace’s disappearance? Finally, the issue of Sutton and his life since Grace left remains concerning. That he would marry Grace’s doppelganger and move three blocks from her childhood home – knowing all her deepest secrets and the memories associated with that home – and then name his daughter after her, makes him sound more than a little obsessed.
But as the story progresses, everything begins to blur. Graham is detestable, yet somehow he begins to come across as soft and caring. Sutton had been caring and selfless, hoping to offer Grace the world, but in meeting Campbell, Grace learns that the man she once loved is nothing like that man he is today. Grace had hoped to spare him, but in leaving she had done more damage than she understood. She knows the change in him is her responsibility. His wife Campbell comes across as naïve and average, but when she and Grace cross paths and form a quick friendship, it becomes clear that Campbell is hiding things, too. Grace herself is the first to admit her faults. She destroys things. Yet as the story unfolds there are hints of a broken girl testing her limits, a girl that just wants to be loved. She pushes everyone away to protect them, but also to protect herself. It is hard to know who is the villain and who is the victim at times. Questions such as whether the chicken or the egg comes first come to mind. A moment’s reaction can change the course of many lives. Actions have consequences.
Grace McMullen returns home eight years after disappearing in the hopes of helping her ex-boyfriend get some closure and move on. Plagued by darkness, she had left him and her family behind because it was simply better for everyone. Her childhood had not been a happy one, and leaving had been liberating. It was an escape from worry. She isn’t good with people, so a solitary life gives her the freedom she craves. Grace’s story is far from simple, and helping Sutton move on proves to be more complicated than she had anticipated. The story is beautifully written and masterfully woven. The plot is very complex. Each layer of the story unfolds only to leave more questions in its wake. The characters are well-developed and steeped with mystery. There is so much going on that it is difficult to predict just what will be uncovered and who is involved. This story is written in shades of grey, not in black and white. It is written in first person in Grace’s POV. I rate this book 4.5 stars.
I received an advance copy of this book and am voluntarily leaving a review.