Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Longings of Wayward Girls

The Longings of Wayward Girls
by Karen Brown
Published by Washington Square Press
336 pages
Genre: women's fiction; mystery
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

Children can be cruel, cruel beings whose meanness knows no bounds. We realize this, of course, those of us who emerged from our childhoods without inflicting too much damage on others or ourselves. But sometimes, we merely think we survived. All it takes is something that trips our memory to remind us that our suffering continues.

Such is the case with Sadie, a beautiful blonde daughter of a beautiful blonde mother. Sadie knows she is prettier than other kids, and she uses this as a weapon against them. She does have some friends, but we quickly realize that they are friends because they fear her more than out of any true affection. When Sadie begins picking on an unfortunate classmate, her friends follow along. One day, Sadie decides to play what appears to be a harmless prank on the girl, but it quickly turns dangerous when the girl disappears.

Twenty years later, Sadie remains gloriously blonde and gloriously aloof, still living in her hometown, married to a handsome man and mother to two beautiful children. From all appearances, Sadie is happy and has achieved something, although she currently is beset with grief over a miscarriage. But that awful day still lurks in her mind, try as she does to make it disappear.

Also involved in Sadie's childhood was Ray Filley, a neighbor boy on whom Sadie had a fierce crush. Ray moved away years earlier, but his reappearance triggers Sadie's memories. It also triggers the teenage lust she felt for him, and the two begin circling each other.

The mystery hooks you: what happened to that missing girl? But there are so many layers to this novel that the mystery almost becomes secondary. In fact, there are three different story lines taking place in three different time periods. There is the modern-day Sadie, the wife and grieving mother who watches her nicely constructed life disintegrate in a cloud of dis-fulfillment and dissatisfaction. There is twelve-year-old Sadie in 1979, perched on the edge of her teenage years, trying to understand her mother and her feelings about Ray. Then there is Sadie in 1972, the year the little girl went missing. What role did Sadie play? How did that Sadie set up 1979 Sadie? How did her past create the woman she is now?

You need to be patient with this book because it does not unfold quickly. In fact, the 1979 thread seems superfluous at first. What's so important about this year? As Brown begins to reveal secrets, the three stories come together, and Sadie becomes fully realized, fully developed, and very human. We become entangled in her travails and trajectories. We want to protect her even as we want to hold her accountable. She shocks us, but she does not repel us.

One thing Brown does very well is create mood and atmosphere. We are right back in 1972, feeling shag carpeting under our toes. We are in the small Connecticut town with Sadie and her friends, and we find ourselves as drawn to Ray as Sadie is. We also join her in the present, reacting with her to Ray's reappearance and her sadness over the miscarriage. Brown's writing latches onto us like quicksand, pulling us deeper and deeper into the story.

Give this one a chance. Don't expect it to be resolved quickly or neatly. Roll along with it, enjoy it, and experience it.

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