From the publisher:
“A year after her best friend died in a house fire, Lara can’t come to terms with the loss. Logic says there was no more she could have done to save the mercurial and unhappy Alice, but Lara can’t escape the feeling that she is somehow to blame for the tragedy.
She spends a weekend at the rebuilt house with Alice’s charismatic widower, Crow, and his three young children. Rummaging through the remains of their shared past, Lara reveals a friendship with Alice that was as troubled as it was intense. But beneath the surface is a darker, more unsettling secret waiting to be exposed.”
A realistic look at friendship. The lives of Alice and Lara came together and grew apart over the span of more than a decade as we explore Lara’s views, highs and lows of her relationship with Alice. I found the prose meandering (in a good way), the characters became real people and the pacing made the story. I felt this was more realistic or literary fiction than mystery or thriller. While there was a little mystery woven into the plot, I found it much more a story about finding closure than about finding the answer.
Told in first person through Lara’s eyes, we are introduced to a grieving woman who is coming to terms with the loss of her closest friend. As she spends the weekend with her late friend, Alice’s husband and children, Lara reminisces of her times with Alice. She remembers good times and bad times, arguments and joys. Throughout it all, the author orients us solidly in Australia: “The moon is not yet visible in the sky, I can’t see more than a metre off the side of the road, just the poa grasses lining the edge of the dirt and the palsied limbs of the stringybarks jutting overhead, bleached white in the headlights.”
While flawed, I found I cared about the characters and wanted to know more about them. As the narrator, Lara had secrets from the reader, but we also saw the most growth in her character. At the beginning of her friendship with Lara, she was in college and trying to find herself. Later, she was trying to figure out who she was apart from Alice and at the end we know she is going to discover a self without Alice. We know because we have faith in the growth and changes she has already experienced. I would love to access to Alice’s journals and see how her mind was working throughout the story. I couldn’t decide if I liked Crow or not, but I am pretty sure that is what he would prefer. He was a person and I certainly felt I could be angry with him, laugh with him and sympathize with him at different points in the story.
At the end of chapter 3, Lara writes “I was enjoying the kind of serene benevolence that can settle on you like a mist when everything in life seems to be in a perfect equilibrium.” At just 10% into the novel, this was exactly how I felt. There was a comfortable feel to the narrative and the story. We knew things were not going to stay that way, but for the moment, life was good. The path we follow from college to adulthood has detours and bumps galore, but all relatable. After a traumatic loss, our minds reel and will flit from one memory to the next, picking apart the details of what was important and what we may have done wrong. A year removed from the accident did distance both the reader and the narrator from some of the fresh emotions occurring closer to the death, but even muted, they were there.
Interspersed throughout the story there were some interesting psychological theories and ideas. I found the one about the differences between male friendships and female friendships sticking with me. The basis of friendship is an interesting topic and the differences between men and women is certainly a global one. The comment towards the end “We were not the women we once were, and we were the ones who could best bear witness to that change. Sad as it was, it was easier, simply, to look away.” also struck a chord with me. We depend on people to know us at our best and our worst. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the ones we love at their worst and it is easier to busy ourselves with the day-to-day of our own lives. It is also sometimes easier to avoid those who may notice we are not living our best lives.
I enjoyed this excursion down under. I think I may need to go call my best friend and remind her that I love her! I found I could not quite give this the full five stars because of the handling of the abortion. It may be my puritanical, prudish, American self, but the cavalier almost brazen way the abortion was discussed and dealt with rubbed me the wrong way. I found myself thinking about this book and its characters long after I set the book down for the day. Thank you to NetGalley for providing this reader a new book and introducing her to a new author!