Monday, January 4, 2016

What She Left - T.R. Richmond

Sometimes there are books that you start to skim through and you know they deserve more than that, they deserve your full attention. What She Left was one of those books for me, at times slow, awkward, and even boring, it is a book I knew deserved my time. I must be honest to my readers, this isn't the normal prose style novel that I usually read, it's a modern take on the epistolary novel. It's a series of documents, online documents mostly, that shape the characters and the story. It's also a mystery and thriller, the kind that is written so well that I never once guessed the ending. It's realistic, you'll be looking at your personal life when you are done, at your footprint in the world and what you don't want anyone to see. It's at times haunting and sad, but also a beautiful look at human existence.

I have read the eBook version, however I am also starting the audio book today. I would absolutely welcome an opportunity to discuss this novel with anyone at anytime.

Rating: 4.5 Stars
Published: January 5, 2016
Many thanks to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Amazon Goodreads
Alice has passed away, she is gone, and her death may not be solved any time soon. Her family and friends, while in mourning, are not the ones who really know her best anymore. Dr. Jeremy Cooke has made Alice's life his newest project. He is piecing her life back together, using her diary, shared information, passing communication, and voice mails to understand the women that people didn't really know. As truths are unfolded, he finds something even more shocking, something unexpected.

What She Left is a mystery, did Alice commit suicide, did she fall, did someone murder her? Who was Alice really anyway? We open the book to a winning writing entry about what's in a name. We glimpse into the young mind of Alice, who she thinks she is and who she may not be at all. In this brief, 1000 word entry, Alice comes to life and she can be anyone you want her to be. She's an enigmatic woman; she's brilliantly smart, haunted by a depression of sorts she calls IT, and what starts as drinking has turned into a sampling of other drugs. She uses words in the fight against criminals, answers questions in an odd sort of way, and has three men in her life that know her in very different ways. She was a beautiful character to read, both from her POV and from the POV of the other people in her life. You see, this isn't a normal prose novel, it is written from several POVs in the form of diary entries, blog posts, letters, forum postings, emails, and news articles. We don't ever really know Alice, except from her words, but we know her family, her friends, her passing acquaintances, and we know the man who's studying her after death. Dr. Cooke is what you expect him to be, an aging academic who never reached his full potential. Who's life crossed Alice's in way it never should have, but left such an impression on him. It was a lot like reading from the perspective of someone who felt they'd lost the one, the one that got away, but with no romance. I enjoyed his letters and how he told stories of his past, his current interactions, and his writing style for the book her is releasing to the world about Alice.

"I’m drunk, Liz. Not that it’s apparent. Can’t even do that well: get drunk. Look at this email: even the god-damn punctuation is right. I’m going to have another drink. The lecherous lecturer is going to get pie-eyed. A sober drunk. That’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one. Listen to me, an oxymoron. I’m even pretentious when I’m sozzled."

At times, this book was hard to follow, the 380 pages started to feel like they were 500. At times it was uncomfortable, boring, or too much unrelated to the story, but it all comes together at the end. I found myself skimming pages at times, then had to go back and read to understand. The fragments of Alice's life are just that, fragments. As a reader it is impossibly hard to read this book and not really know the character, but to only feel the emotions in the words from those who knew her. There are also some parts of the book that are tough to read, the relationships aren't pretty, Alice's spiral and struggle with IT definitely isn't pretty, but it all was just a shadow of who she really was, a person the reader can never really know.

"I’m ignorant to much, Larry, but obsession is territory with which I’m well acquainted. Its coarse rub, its barbed spike, its musty spoiled sourness. The line between love and hate is paper-thin, and when you love someone and it turns to hate, there’s an inverse relationship between the two."

I took a lot away from this book, but mostly I ended this book with an understanding that it wasn't really a story about Alice at all, but a glimpse into how life is for a twenty-five year old and how easily her life was recreated through words. It is a look into the human condition and how much our use of media puts our life out there for anyone. I loved that the main story teller, Dr. Cooke, who writes in letters to a pen pal, tells his side of the story from the eyes of an elder who doesn't use media the same was as the younger generation does. He sees where they have overshared on blogs, that words are deleted, that communication is easily found when you look. Over the course of the novel, we start to truly see Alice, to understand her life, and even begin to see what happened to her on the fateful night when she died. I loved the modern take on the epistolary style writing and the gradual character formation we get from those who knew Alice. I liked that I didn't really know all the characters that well until the very end, I liked the slow increase of characters sharing information about their relationship with Alice, and I really liked how we finally find out all the truths.

*A previous version of this posting had the 2015 book cover image, this has since been replaced with the 2016 Simon and Schuster book cover*

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