Why would a woman leave a child she adored in the care of a housekeeper and not return, not even call, unless something dreadful had happened to her? Anna’s best friends, Paul, a gay entrepreneur, and Stella, a corporate lawyer, have stepped in to tend to young Lily until (or if) her mother returns—and it’s their fears and discoveries that drive this deeply unsettling psychological tale. Could Anna have been abducted, drugged, and imprisoned by a stalker, perhaps a man who imagines a resemblance between her and his fantasy of a wife? Could Anna have abandoned her role as mother for a heady, physical, all-consuming relationship with a lover, someone she met through the personal adverts, and be so enthralled with him that she barely notices, or cares, that he’s setting her up to carry stolen goods? While Paul and Stella wrestle with the possibilities, and redefine their attitudes toward each other now that Anna is no longer there as a buffer, the phone rings and Lily answers it. Was it Anna, as Lily later claims, or was the child so desperate for contact with her mother—and so aware of her minders’ fears that her mother might never reappear—that she invented the story out of a wrong number? The excruciating possibilities linger, despite Dunant’s wry final twist.
As unnerving and elegantly written as Transgressions (1998). And surely there’s never been a more penetrating look throughout the suspense field at the ramifications of parenting for a gay man, a career-obsessed woman, or a single mother—nor a more trenchant study of one’s core identity and needs.