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AFTER HER by Joyce Maynard

AFTER HER

By Joyce Maynard

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-225739-0
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Cycling through big themes—love for a flawed father and a loyal sister; the pursuit of a serial killer; coming-of-age/receiving of family wisdom—Maynard’s (The Good Daughters, 2010, etc.) latest starts strong but fades.

Thirteen-year-old Rachel Torricelli, inseparable big sister of Patty, narrates the story, set in the San Francisco suburbs of the late 1970s. Both girls adore their father, Anthony, a charismatic but inconstant police detective who quits the family home when Rachel is 8, leaving their fragile mother depressed and short of cash. The girls’ playground, right behind their house, is Mount Tamalpais, a place full of possibilities, until the Sunset Strangler begins raping and murdering women there. With her handsome father on television leading the murder investigation, Rachel suddenly finds herself popular and attractive to boys. Her busy imagination—she aspires to be a  writer—leads to speculation on sex and death and "visions" of the killings. But, despite authorial teasers, the story loses momentum as the sequence of murders grows and Detective Torricelli fails to solve them, diminishing him in the eyes of everyone. With the time frame speeding up, the novel thins out, ending in a speedy, decades-later wrap-up that offers more tidiness than conviction.

There’s fluency and insight here but also a shortage of subtlety, with the book’s underpinnings too visible through its skin.