IN CLARA’S HANDS by Joseph Olshan


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Grim but tepid psychological thriller pieces together the enigma of a woman’s disappearance.

Will Kaplan (from Nightswimmer, 1994) has a weird talent for escaping tragedy. Previously, he and his boyfriend went for a long swim and the boyfriend never came back; here, Will misses a flight that crashes into the ocean off Long Island with his friend Marie aboard. You can’t really call it luck, and it’s too much for Will, who retreats into a grief-stricken depression after the catastrophe and has to be nursed back to normal by his old Jamaican nanny Clara, who travels from Brooklyn all the way up to Burlington, Vermont (where Will works as a cartographer). Having arranged Marie’s trip in the first place, Will feels responsible for her death, but his guilt turns to confusion when the airline claims that Marie was not aboard. Where is she? Reluctantly, Will contacts her son Peter (with whom he had an unhappy affair some years before), who has no idea where his mother is. From Peter, though, Will does learn that Marie’s daughter Grace has been diagnosed with cancer, and in turn Grace tells him that Marie had considered canceling her trip to come and stay with her during her treatments. Clara even consults a seer in Jamaica to learn what became of Marie, but to no avail. Olshan, author of seven previous novels, tells his story from different points of view, and from Marie’s chapters we begin to see the outlines of an answer to the mystery. We also learn of the private demons from her past that drove Marie part of the way to her end.

Soap opera: caricatures (the faithful nanny, haunted mother, jilted lover obsessed with his boyfriend) in a tale that tries to make up for its shallowness with improbable twists of fate and endless (equally improbable) revelations from the lurid past.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7475-5497-8
Page count: 312pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2003


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