STRANGE BUT TRUE by John Searles


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A second novel (after Boys Still Missing, 2001) strains painfully to shock and move as it details the consequences of a teenager’s death in a prom-night car accident.

In suburban Pennsylvania, Melissa Moody, Ronnie Chase’s date for the prom, still cherishes all the mementoes of their romance—photographs, even the bloodstained dress she was wearing the night she was badly scarred and Ronnie was killed. Ronnie’s father has subsequently married a younger wife; meanwhile, Charlene, his mother and a former librarian, is bingeing on pills and food; and older brother Phillip, a would-be poet who fled to New York, is back home and spending his days reading the biography of Anne Sexton. One evening five years after the accident, Melissa suddenly turns up pregnant and announces that she has a message from Ronnie: the child is his, and Ronnie wants Philip to go on writing poetry. Philip is skeptical, but Charlene, desperate for any shred of comfort, tries to finds out whether any of Ronnie’s semen could have been kept frozen in a lab. As Charlene makes tentative moves to recovery, Melissa, who lives in a shack owned by former policeman Bill Erwin and his wife Gail and is due to deliver any day, is asked by Gail to move out, as she’s behind in her rent. Gail has her reasons: she’s discovered that Bill may have sexually assaulted a number of young women by drugging them with pills Gail found in the basement. Philip and Melissa’s recollections of their pasts—more set pieces than credible insights—pad out the story, which soon becomes violent. Bill, who realizes that Gail suspects the truth about his past, attacks her—and then Phillip, searching for Melissa, sees black birds pecking at something in the nearby woods. The tension is as predictable and contrived as the happy ending.

Phony mix of thrills, chills, and touchy moments about a family finding itself.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-688-17571-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004


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