A mystery about the cascading consequences of childhood trauma, as seen through the eyes of a young prison inmate.
De Smet makes an impressive debut with this haunting psychological thriller that captivates from the get-go. It’s a journey through the repressed memories of Emily Quinn, a young woman sitting in the San Francisco County lock-up in 1966 after her arrest for her father’s slaying. She remembers nothing of the incident and practically nothing about the rest of her past. Enter Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a forensic psychiatrist hired by her defense team to discover any potentially mitigating circumstances that they can use at trial. Lieberman’s personal mission, however, is to help Emily find the many missing pieces of a life that culminated in a brutal murder and to convince her that she can still have a meaningful future. When they meet, Emily hesitantly tells him the information she’s gathered about herself: her name is Emily, she’s 19 years old, and she has a mother and a brother who haven’t visited her; a twin sister, Penelope, who died when they were both 5; and a fiance, Reid, a U.S. Marine in boot camp. Using hypnosis, Lieberman brings her mind back to the age of 8 and then moves her steadily forward in each of their weekly sessions. Gradually, Emily dredges up details of her father’s abusive behavior and her mother’s pathological disengagement. What emerges is a story of a family filled with secrets and dysfunction. De Smet’s skillful use of first-person perspective, both in the prison environment and during Emily’s recollections, brings readers right into the moment; past and present events have equal immediacy. The setting is the 1950s and ’60s, and the author provides just enough cultural references—movie and song titles, clothing styles—to realistically render the period. Fluent prose and dialogue propel the action, although some of Emily’s mental meanderings during relatively ordinary events feel overly dramatic; her tortuous internal battle between the forces of light and dark, especially, goes on a bit too long. This is a small complaint, however, given the complexity of Emily’s path to self-discovery.
A dark, stirring novel with a riveting final twist whose implications linger well after the last page.