An Oregon woman’s life unravels as she grapples with the possibility that another woman was murdered because she was not.
June is supremely happy in her life. She likes her job as the cook in an elementary school attended by the more downtrodden children in town, and she loves her husband Bill, a chef, with whom she has shared a childless but blissful marriage for ten years. One day when June’s car breaks down, the father of a child from the school offers her a ride home. She considers the invitation, then decides she’d rather walk. That same afternoon, the man is arrested for the rape and murder of another woman, Vernay Hanks. June did not know Vernay, but the dead woman’s child Cindy is also a student at June’s school. June feels responsible for the death, thinking the murderer took Vernay when he couldn’t get June. Without telling Bill, and under the false pretense of having been Vernay’s friend, June visits Cindy, who lives with her uncle Harlan. As June insinuates herself into their lives, she puts off telling Bill. As clues pile up, June rationalizes away her suspicions that Bill knew Vernay until the day Cindy appears wearing a bracelet that belonged to Bill’s mother. Confronted, Bill admits he had a year-long affair with Vernay. Although he apologizes, June’s trust is shattered and they separate. She continues to see the Hanks, both of whom she has begun to love, without mentioning her connection to Bill. Of course, they discover it and are devastated. Then it turns out the police arrested the wrong man. June’s eventual clarity is hard-won, but as a character she never quite jells.
Although Clement (Pretty Is as Pretty Does, 2001) can get preachy about the oppressed poor and the evils of war, she wrestles eloquently with some meaty issues: lies, responsibility, chance.