Review: 'How Quickly She Disappears,' by Raymond Fleischmann
AP

Review: 'How Quickly She Disappears,' by Raymond Fleischmann

{{featured_button_text}}
"How Quickly She Disappears" by Raymond Fleischmann; Berkley (309 pages, $26).

"How Quickly She Disappears" by Raymond Fleischmann; Berkley (309 pages, $26). (Penguin Random House/TNS)

"How Quickly She Disappears" by Raymond Fleischmann; Berkley (309 pages, $26)

___

Something ominous happens in the opening pages of "How Quickly She Disappears" and it's not immediately clear whether it's the good kind of ominous.

Here's the sitch: An unhappily married woman senses her small-town life is about to be turned upside-down by the unexpected arrival of a handsome, older drifter whose looks are compared to a falcon. If every single detail in that sentence sends you into "Bridges of Madison County" Post-Terrible Writing Stress Disorder, I apologize, but don't shoot the messenger.

Fortunately, it's quickly apparent that Raymond Fleischmann, who wrote this tense, character-rich thriller, is a better writer than Robert James Waller and that "How Quickly She Disappears" is after something much different from what "Bridges" was. Instead of embarking on an affair with mysterious Alfred, Elisabeth enters into a "Silence of the Lambs"-style exchange with him after he kills a man and, from prison, makes unsettling overtures to her and her 12-year-old daughter, Margaret.

That's the good kind of ominous, and Fleischmann sustains it throughout "How Quickly She Disappears." We don't know exactly what Alfred wants from Elisabeth when he summons her to prison but we do know what she wants from him: Her twin disappeared when the sisters were adolescents and has not been heard from since. Alfred, it turns out, knows what happened but will only gradually reveal the details.

Smart, vulnerable and too quick to make life-alteringly bad decisions, Elisabeth is a fascinating character (the book is a natural for a movie adaptation, and Natalie Portman would be an excellent Elisabeth). We spend most of "How Quickly She Disappears" in her head, either as a child in the 1920s or a lonely adult in the 1940s. Fleischmann is particularly good at depicting the uncertainties of being both a parent and an outsider in an isolated town that closes ranks against newcomers. For extra isolation, this one's in Alaska.

Elisabeth uses a meditation technique, learned in childhood, to deal with all of her uncertainties. Her doubts deepen her character while Fleischmann's melodious prose gives us the lay of the land: "She heard the stiff, rhythmic beat of someone cutting wood. Then she heard the suck and sigh of her own breathing, the faint tick of Delma's claws as she traipsed through the living room. Listen. Someone laughed in the distance. Listen. A group of children hurried down the road, whooping as they played hoop and stick. Listen. Just listen. She closed her eyes. She tried to relax."

That lyrical passage is atypical of the propulsive "How Quickly She Disappears," which rarely pauses to reflect. But it's representative of how deeply we connect to the protagonist of Fleischmann's assured page-turner, in which every plot development hinges on grieving Elisabeth's yearning for a truth that has eluded her for almost all of her life.

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

0
0
0
0
0

Get Breaking News delivered directly to you.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Rankings for hardcover books sold in Southern California, as reported by selected bookstores: ___ Fiction 1. "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press: $26) A son in his late 20s writes a letter to his mother, who cannot read, unearthing a family's history rooted in Vietnam. 2. "The Dutch House," by Ann Patchett (Harper: $27.99) The lives of a brother and sister lives ...

Rankings for hardcover books sold in Southern California, as reported by selected bookstores: ___ Nonfiction 1. "Talking to Strangers," by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown: $30) Examples of miscommunication explain potential conflicts and misunderstandings. 2. "Trick Mirror," by Jia Tolentino (Random House: $27) Essays on self-deception. 3. "The Yellow House," by Sarah M. Broom (Grove Press: ...

Here are the bestsellers for the week that ended Saturday, Jan. 11, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide, powered by NPD BookScan (c) 2020 NPD Group. (Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, published by PWxyz LLC. (c) 2019, PWxyz LLC.) HARDCOVER FICTION 1. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Charlie Mackesy. ...

"If you need this book," Carmen Maria Machado writes on the dedication page of her new memoir, "In the Dream House," "it is for you." For Machado, author of the acclaimed 2017 short-story collection, "Her Body and Other Parties," the "dream house" of the book was a nightmare: a nondescript home in Indiana where she lived for a time with the woman she loved, in a psychologically abusive ...

"The Longer Fall" by Charlaine Harris; Saga Press (320 pages, $26.99) ___ Charlaine Harris has proven herself to be a master at creating alternative worlds and populating them with believable characters, no matter how fanciful, and plots that complement these worlds. She did that by inventing the urban fantasy subgenre with her successful Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series filled with ...

Here are the bestsellers for the week that ended Saturday, Jan. 11, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide, powered by NPD BookScan (c) 2019 NPD Group. (Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, published by PWxyz LLC. (c) 2019, PWxyz LLC.) HARDCOVER FICTION 1. "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse" by Charlie Mackesy ...

"Why We Can't Sleep" by Ada Calhoun; Grove (267 pages, $26) ___ I remember seeing it on Facebook, shared by seemingly every woman my age in fall 2017 - hundreds of thousands of times in a few days. A viral Oprah.com essay, in which writer Ada Calhoun described the "new" midlife crisis hitting Generation X. She wrote about women who were exhausted, overwhelmed, pounded by a unique combination ...

"Dead Astronauts" by Jeff VenderMeer; MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (323 pages, $27) ___ What is the blue fox - a prophet, an alien, a demigod of nature, a hallucination, a genetic experiment gone wrong? If a wandering astronaut sees her own skeleton, turned relic in a city that changes form each time she enters it, does it signal her death or her immortality? In Jeff VanderMeer's new novel, ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News