This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Hodder & Stoughton. The present review is also being published to my accounts on NetGalley, GoodReads, Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media .
I’m delighted to be taking part, this morning, in the blog tour for Jessica Strawser’s second novel, Not That I Could Tell, which was published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK on the 5th of this month (Kindle, £6.99 and paperback, £14.99), and is being marketed as a general fiction title. On the U.S., the hardcover was published on March 27th ($26.99, St. Martin’s Press), but the novel is being marketed as women’s fiction.
Courtesy of the publishers, I am bringing you an excerpt which, though small, is very mysterious and intriguing and will, I am sure, go a long way in spicing up your curiosity about this novel. My own contribution to the blog tour will be, as usual, my full review of the title.
Ever wonder what your friends really think of you?
Drinks in hand, a group of neighbourhood women gather around a fire pit to enjoy a rare child-less Saturday night. Giddy with freedom, they drink too much, share secrets they wish, perhaps, they hadn’t, and enjoy getting to know each other better.
The single newcomer. The imperfect mom. The new-born parents. The military wife. The almost divorcee.
Come Monday morning, one of them is gone.
As a police investigation launches, the women will band together and ask whether they should have noticed that something was amiss.
But how well can you really know your neighbours, when appearances can be so deceiving?
Not That I Could Tell takes us to a close-knit neighbourhood in small-town America, in the town of Yellow Springs in Ohio, to the kind of street where everyone knows (or thinks they know) pretty much everybody else and the sum of each other’s lives. It is a Saturday night in September, and several women decide to spend a well deserved night of relaxation away from their husbands and children. Armed with their child monitors, glass of wine in hand, they get together around the fire pit in the back garden of one of their houses, getting to know each other and, in particular, the new arrival to the street, a woman who has only recently bought a house there.
Sitting around the fire, the women enjoy their rare night of freedom, drinking a glass of wine and exchanging stories and confidences. At the end of the night they return home, and by next morning they realise they can hardly remember how they got there, or indeed most of the fireside evening, and what they cannot remember seems to be as mortifying as what they can. Tellingly, perhaps, neither can they remember having drunk all that much. Such things however are, if not to be expected at least not unheard of, and life resumes as sleepily as usual for the street’s inhabitants in general, and the five women in particular. Nothing seems to have changed — until, that is, one of the women and her children are discovered missing.
Overnight, the lives of the street’s inhabitants are catapulted into a cycle of constant upheaval and uncertainty. As the neighbourhood reels from the shock, the police seem to trundle along a not very successful investigation, and the media seem to rejoice in the confusion they create. As the weeks progress without either a body being found, or the woman and her children located safe and sound, no one and nothing is left untouched; and one by one the women are forced to re-examine the ties that bind them to one another, how well they know themselves, and how much exactly they know about each other’s lives.
I wish I could say I enjoyed this book more than I have. Although Strawser’s style is quite fluid and proficient, and the novel is very well written, I feel the plot has let it down somewhat. In fact, after about 20 pages or so, I knew exactly what had happened to Kirsten and her children, and how the novel would be ending; the ‘twists and turns’ the author introduces along the way were unfortunately not enough to make me cast enough doubt on the outcome. And even though I felt that at times certain details were almost too contrived, I believe that on the balance they contributed positively to the development of the story-line.
The characters are well fleshed out and on the whole quite believable, even slightly dopey Lizzy who seems only too happy to be taken in by handsome doctor Paul, soon-to-be ex-husband of the missing woman — and this despite the veritable cacophony of alarm bells she seems so intent on ignoring. Even giving her due discount for being on the rebound (from what was to all effects a non-relationship) and perhaps somewhat inexperienced, I spent half the novel wanting to shake some sense into her. Seriously, Lizzy? Seriously?
My main bone of contention though is with the UK publishers and their marketing people, and their view of which genre this book should be ascribed to. I agree that it is too light and straightforward for literary fiction, and similarly too light and nowhere near suspenseful enough to be classed as a mystery/suspense read, while any elements that could have made it a thriller are simply not marked enough. But surely its subject-matter, as well as the treatment thereof, make it undeniably fall under Women’s Fiction…?
Apart from that, all well and good, I should say. I’m shelving it as Women’s Lit, because it is where I believe it belongs. And it is as women’s lit that I am rating it four, wholly deserved, lovely little hearts.
Therefore, and if women’s fiction is your cup of tea, or if you’re looking for something on the general cross-section between general fiction and a thriller, a light-enough though serious-enough kind of novel talking about mysterious happenings and women’s lives and which can keep you company during your week’s holiday, I daresay this is the book you’re looking for — so look no further: now that you’ve found it, go grab your own copy. Mine’s already taken.
Genre pegging: General Fiction
Shelves: Women’s Fiction
and where else to follow this blog tour: