“Watch Me Disappear” by Janelle Brown is an interesting spin on a mystery story. It is not about the death of wife and mother Billy Flanagan who disappeared almost one year previously while backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness. It is about the consequences of that event, a family in crisis. It is about her husband Jonathan and daughter Olive who are left behind, haunted by “missing and presumed dead,” a phrase with no conclusion.
Jonathan quits his job and is writing a book, a memoir inspired by his life with Billy. As the one-year anniversary of Billy’s disappearance approaches, Jonathan prepares to have her declared legally dead. One day at school, Olivia sees her mother as if in a dream, chiding her “Why aren’t you looking?” She is consumed with doubt and guilt. “What if Mom is still alive, somewhere, and she has reached out to let me know?”
Questions surface. Jonathan’s search for answers exposes his wife’s secret and highly problematic history. Who was this woman he married? Who was this mother of his child? What is truth and what is fiction? Eventually the past comes crashing into the present like a dead tree limb, spewing splinters everywhere, and leaving a cavernous gap in the tree trunk of their lives. Secrets are revealed that none of the players anticipated. And even when the quest seems to be over, is it really? The details come out in the end, in the very last word.
Random House Publishing Group, NetGalley, and Janelle Brown gave me a copy of “Watch Me Disappear” for an impartial review. The pace was slow but steady. The personality of each character developed as the book progressed, and there were dynamic and interesting relationships between the characters. I usually don’t read books of this kind, but the description was intriguing, and I really enjoyed reading it. The last sentence is one of the best ever but don’t sneak a peek ahead of time.