This book should have disappointed me. But it most certainly didn’t.
After I finished reading it I checked out some of the reviews on Goodreads, which is something I never do before I’ve written my own… lest I be swayed, second-guess myself or inadvertently let others’ words seep into my head.
And there were a few negative comments from those expecting a whodunnit of sorts. But… this isn’t one of those books. And I didn’t mind.The Fall of Lisa Bellow
by Susan Perabo
Published by Simon & Schuster AU
on March 1st 2017
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: General Fiction
A masked man with a gun enters a sandwich shop in broad daylight, and Meredith Oliver suddenly finds herself ordered to the filthy floor, where she cowers face to face with her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. The minutes tick inexorably by, and Meredith lurches between comforting the sobbing Lisa and imagining her own impending death. Then the man orders Lisa Bellow to stand and come with him, leaving Meredith the girl left behind.
After Lisa’s abduction, Meredith spends most days in her room. As the community stages vigils and searches, Claire, Meredith’s mother, is torn between relief that her daughter is alive, and helplessness over her inability to protect or even comfort her child. Her daughter is here, but not.
The promo materials describe this book best:
The Fall of Lisa Bellow is edgy and original, a hair-raising exploration of the ripple effects of an unthinkable crime. It is a dark, beautifully rendered, and gripping novel about coping, about coming-of-age, and about forgiveness. It is also a beautiful illustration of how one family, broken by tragedy, finds healing.
And indeed, it’s more about the ‘fallout’ of the event than the event itself. We meet Meredith just before the robbery and abduction so get some insight into the 13yr old. And she’s delightful. We spend the book in her head as well as her mother’s but are privy to the changes and impacts the event also have on Meredith’s older brother Evan – who recently endured his own life-changing experience; and father Mark.
There are a number of themes in this book and the one that hit home (for me) centred around family and relationships. It pops up early in the book as Claire reflects on something that occurred a decade earlier.
Her eyes slipped back to the street in front of her just as something crawled over her skin, something unfamiliar, something slimy and cold that surely belonged at the bottom of the ocean. In less than a second it had covered her from head to toe, and then it started squeezing. So this was the world that existed for her six-year-old son. This was it. A place where things could make him feel bad and absolutely nothing could be done about it. A place where she was powerless to protect him. p 29
It’s a recurring theme and one parents will surely relate to:
She could not protect her daughter. She could not protect her from the stomach flu. She could not protect her from cancer or AIDS or the common cold. She could not protect her from mean girls. She could not protect her friends. She could not protect her from her own thoughts. She could not protect her from men who took girls from the line at the Deli Barn…
She could vaccinate them and make them wear seat belts and batting helmets. She could give them cell phones with emergency numbers on speed dial. She could give them straight-talk books and scared straight DVDs and a solid, honest, pitch-perfect piece of advice every single morning on their way out the door. But in the end there was no intervention.
There was only awareness. pp. 165-166
And then there’s Claire’s relationship with Mark, her husband. She loves him, but they’re very different.
Everyone loved Mark. And why not? He was loveable. What you saw was what you got. Nothing lurked under the surface…. Blessed with impeccable chemical balance, Mark took pleasure in things without questioning whey he was taking pleasure in them. p 34
I was reminded that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They can see beyond the facade. I know many friends who’ve separated and worry about their children; worry they’ll be too easily swayed by ex-partners and the bright shiny things they can offer; or the fact that the occasional parent gets the good stuff, while the parent doing the hard yards day in and day out, just gets to be the taskmaster. And then there’s the roles those together are forced into: one gets to be the fun parent while the other is the disciplinarian. The bad cop.
Interestingly, both Evan and Meredith recognise the respective roles their parents play, even if they don’t acknowledge it.
Her mother had layers and secrets and dark spaces where she kept god knows what. Her father had no such dark spaces. Her father was transparent, which is not to say he was shallow or stupid or even uninteresting. He just was what he was. Sad things made him sad and happy things made him happy. p 101
After Lisa is abducted Meredith ‘sees’ her in her mind. The pair have conversations and Perabo cleverly makes us question what it is we think we know, what Meredith knows and what exactly happened in the deli that day. She also offers up some suspects and scenarios.
And there’s the ‘what if’ scenario. Meredith and her family are understandably relieved she wasn’t the one abducted, but why… and what does that mean?
This is not a novel of suspense. Or a mystery. It’s a study in human nature. It’s about love, relationships, families, fate and resilience. I very much appreciated the ‘journey’ (#sorrynotsorry) Perabo takes us on, and where she ultimately leaves us.
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.