Richmond’s third novel laboriously depicts the nightmare endured by a San Francisco woman after her fiancé’s daughter is snatched from a beach while in her care.
First-person narrator Abby, a photographer in her early 30s, obsessively rehearses the disappearance of six-year-old Emma through the course of this drawn-out suspense novel. Emma scampered ahead on Ocean Beach while she and Abby were looking for sand dollars; Abby gazed down for a few seconds to take pictures of a dead baby seal, and the girl vanished from sight. The shock and guilt are numbing. Emma’s father, Jake, a football player turned high-school teacher, thought he had finally found a loyal life companion; now he isn’t sure he can forgive her. The case becomes a sensation in the local and national press, but there are few clues. Emma’s mother, Lisbeth, a drug addict who decamped years before and never contacted her family, resurfaces to garner self-promotion and attempt a reconciliation with her ex-husband. After a year, Jake begins to lose faith that the case will ever be solved. Abby, however, is convinced Emma is alive and can be found, if only she can remember more details from the time of the girl’s disappearance. The text piles layer upon layer of anticipation in the form of theories by Abby’s librarian neighbor on the functions of memory and hints gleaned from hypnosis. Richmond (Dream of the Blue Room, 2003, etc.) treats a harrowing subject with emotional sensitivity, but the miraculous and hallucinatory final twists create a jarring turnaround from the rest of the novel’s steady realism.
Three-fourths suspense and one-fourth dubious dénouement.