Thursday, October 24, 2013

Joyce Maynard Excels at Literary Suspense

Several years ago I raved here on these pages about a new author I'd found. ( )
Her name is Joyce Maynard and her book, Labor Day, was an outstanding piece of writing, an in-depth examination of the complexities of the human heart. The film, currently in production and starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, will be released in January.

I was surprised and disappointed to see that there wasn't a long wait list for her newest novel After Her. How is it that everyone doesn't know about this woman? Readers, heed my advice and run out to your local library for this exquisite novel. It's no surprise that Ms. Maynard runs several successful writing workshops on fiction and memoir.

 Her ability to capture that narrow line between the innocence and wisdom of teenagers is on full display in Labor Day but is especially fine tuned in After Her. Based upon the true story of the infamous California crimes of the so-called Hillside Strangler, this book is set in Marin County, California, at the base of the mountain range where so many young women's bodies were discovered back in the '80's. The murder mystery itself, however, takes a back seat to the exploration of the effect that the case had on those living in the area and, especially, on the man in charge of the investigation.

Anthony Torricelli loved women - all women - way too much to be a good husband, but he was a devoted father to his daughters Rachel and Patty even though he'd moved out by the time they were in school. And to those girls, that man could do no wrong. The summer that the bodies began to show up on the mountain, Detective Torricelli became the lead spokesperson for a department that kept coming up short on clues and, for a while, his notoriety trickled down to Rachel, giving her unusual entrée with the "in" crowd at school and driving a wedge between her and her sister.

But, as the year progresses more bodies are discovered on the mountain, the probe into the crimes is getting nowhere and Rachel, a gifted storyteller with a fertile imagination, obsessed by the killer, takes it upon herself to seek justice for the victims and save her father's reputation. The results of her actions will be felt for decades to come.

Ms. Maynard's attention to detail places the reader firmly in the time period, referencing songs, describing the laconic after school activities that mostly involved making out in the cool kids' basement, polishing nails, and dissing the outsiders. The angst, the burning desire to belong even at the expense of common sense, may remind you of your own teen years.

The love-hate relationship between Rachel and her sister Patty as their high school lives veer off in wildly different directions, (Patty becomes a basketball fanatic), is so sensitively and truly written, each sister too proud to admit how much she misses their former closeness, their us against the world mentality.

After Her succeeds on so many levels. I loved this book. It made me want to hop a plane to Guatemala, manuscript in hand, for a week with the author and her students. But can you teach imagination? I'm not so sure.


TooManyBooks said...

Hi! I saw a review on the book that was not very complimentary. But, on your say so, I'm putting it on hold. Looking forward to seeing you!

Sallyb said...

Uh oh, pressure's on! I think you'll like it.