After four agonizing days, Jen and Hugh Maddox’s 15-year-old daughter, Lana, has been found, bloodied and soaking wet. But where has she been?
Lana herself cannot—or will not—say. The clues are scant: While on a mother-daughter painting course in the English countryside, Lana simply vanished one night and turned up four days later, spotted by a farmer. Did Lana leave voluntarily, or was she taken? Could fellow artist Stephen, a minister of the New Lollards Fellowship, a sect fascinated by visits to hell, have taken her? Or perhaps Matthew, the son of the holiday-center manager, lured Lana away? Remembering how she caught Lana last year with a plastic bag full of painkillers, Jen fears that Lana may have intended to harm herself. After Lana is discharged from the hospital, the Maddoxes return to London and attempt to patch their family back together. Still riddled with questions, Jen begins to investigate. In short, deft narrative fragments, Healey (Elizabeth Is Missing, 2014) captures Jen’s piecing together of Lana’s fragile psyche. Hoping to find clues, Jen scrutinizes Lana’s sketchbook, her Instagram account, and the books hidden under her bed, alarmed to find repeated references to the end of life. With echoes of Demeter’s rescue of Persephone, Jen’s investigation into what happened over those four days becomes a quest to understand her daughter’s mental illness and accept her broken memories. Healey beautifully depicts Lana’s sense of unease in her own body: When asked by her therapist to find an image that symbolically represents her discomfort, Lana chooses one of birds, explaining that she feels as if she were full of fluttering birds eager to escape her skin. Along the way, Jen must face her own psychological quirks (including possibly imaginary cats) and walk in Lana’s footsteps.
An exquisite portrait of a mother’s healing love for her troubled daughter.