The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones
|The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A small town full of people living small little lives isn't even shaken awake when Ronnie Mitchell goes missing. Only her sister seems to care. It will take a lot of slow careful plodding and a missing teenager before anyone else starts to take note. The crime isn't the point of the book, it's just an excuse to explore the lives of the characters. Satisfyingly gloomy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: July 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Small Town America. What's the betting you already have it pictured? The downtown area. The upmarket suburb. The downbeat housing district. The High School with all its little league (in every sense of the expression) dramas and drama queens.
Welcome to Roma, Kentucky. A dry county, just to make life there slightly worse, but at least it's only a twelve mile drive to the state line over the border into Tennessee and a one-horse, two-bar strip known locally as the Tobacco Patch.
Everything about Jones' created neighbourhood is tinged with grime and sadness and lives that just might well have been something a little (or indeed a lot) more than they're turning into.
Back in Roma we meet a bunch of ordinary folk.
Emily Houchens is fourteen years old and has a serious, make-believe, crush on the school heart-throb. A couple of years back, when he was the new kid on the block, he helped her with a science project, treated her real nice. Now he calls her a creep and a freak. Maybe she is. Certainly her brother is, to use the word in the book, retarded. Folks round here don't really do politically correct, or even medically correct, language Round here the old values hold.
Old values, like, for instance, racism. They'd be more polite about it now, hide it away, but Detective Tony Joyce knows things haven't really changed. He was once the only black player on Roma High's baseball team and headed for college and the majors. An injury put paid to that and a new career first beckoned and then (among other things) sent him home.
Susanna Mitchell might once have been close to Tony. Now married to Dale, and kind of wondering why, she has always regretted bowing to her father's prejudices and turning down a date, way back when. Now she's teaching high school herself. And trying to deal with the way Emily gets picked on. And trying to put that class heart-throb, self-appointed lord of the school, Christopher Shelton, in his place.
Not a hope. He's momma's little darling, and daddy's a hot-shot lawyer. Not so hot-shot it would seem, that he hasn't also drifted back to a no-hope town.
Meanwhile, over at the factory, an ageing packer, Wyatt Powell is dealing with his own version of Shelton. Sam Austen is a good-for-nothing youth, with another rich parent, who thinks he's something he isn't but still manages to charm his way through life. His current project, when not working his way through every woman around worth sleeping with, is teasing the life out of poor old Wyatt. Wyatt isn't really old, but he's settling for the slow ride downhill, life alone with his dog and a job he hates.
These are the characters at the heart of The Next Time You See Me.
Normal, all of them. All of them not amounting to what they thought they could. Not a happy exuberant joyful soul among them.
There had been one: Ronnie. Veronica, Susannah's sister, was – well, let's call her wayward. She was a free spirit. Known around town as a bit of tramp: a drinker, if she'd been male they'd have called her a womaniser, strangely the female equivalent is a lot more insulting. She slept around. She had an on/off relationship with a soldier, but mostly she took her pleasures where she found them. She wasn't the jealous type or the lonely type. Not usually. It's far too early to be talking of Ronnie in the past tense. She is only missing.
But then, Emily has been walking in the woods, and there is something out there that she's not telling anyone about.
There are enough twists in this tale to keep you wondering about who is who, and who did what and why... but it doesn't really step over into thrillerhood, because the twists are subtle and you tend to stick to what you see, with just a touch of the but maybe's thrown into the mix. The real strength though is in the utter believability of it all; the real sadness in the utter futility of it.
And the connection is that we all know, might even be, one of those, being less than they could be, purely for the lack of the spirit to do otherwise.
For such an ultimately sad piece of work, it is strangely satisfying. I can only put this down to Jones' skill in rendering the everyday only just a hairsbreadth strand away from the banal. She has deep insight, but wears it lightly.
Debut novels don't come much better than this. Recommended.
For more character-driven tales from this neck of the States, we can recommend Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
You can read more book reviews or buy The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones at Amazon.com.
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