Gilbert’s debut novel reduces the mess of child custody and parental kidnapping into a few elemental ingredients.
Divorced school teacher Anna Miller is about to depart for Genova, Italy, with her son, Oliver. For reasons the book doesn’t provide, Oliver’s father, Evan, has custody of the child, and Anna and Oliver are running away. Because the author’s descriptions are so bare, chapter titles—which identify the character covered in each chapter—are like breadcrumbs enabling readers to follow the story. Using a limited third-person point of view to navigate through short scenes, the novel drops subtle hints about the players without fully developing them. When Evan confiscates a card Oliver made for Anna, it’s clear he will never win any Father of the Year awards; however, even in this scene it’s difficult for readers to judge him as an unfit parent. To determine how serious his issues might be, readers are left to fill in the blanks while watching his new relationship fall apart or read between the lines of his dialogue with the FBI agents and private investigators he hires to track down Anna and Oliver. The author’s treatment of dialogue—sans quotation marks, without descriptions of inflection or volume—adds a feeling of complicity to the sparse prose, as if readers have overheard something that’s wrong but not entirely illegal. This literary device leaves readers feeling uncomfortable, as they’re probably meant to be. The well-crafted plot is meted out at a steady pace, continually feeding readers’ need to know and simultaneously whetting the appetite for more. Unfortunately, the novel doesn’t end on a wholly satisfying note, mostly because Anna isn’t as completely developed as the sheriff, the book’s most likable, fully formed character.
Despite this title’s shortcomings, readers will be eager to return to the table for Gilbert’s next work.