"In her Camaro, on the road, with the window down and freezing air blowing in and her left hand making little waves as she raced along, she could be herself, finally. She would rather be leaving than coming, driving than arriving; she lived better in the in-between than she ever had sitting still. Which was why she didn't belong in any photograph. She had looked through the camera's lens and seen not her family but her own absence, and it had seemed to her for a moment that she was a ghost, that she didn't really exist and wouldn't be missed."
Ronnie Eastman never really fit in in the small, factory town of Roma, Kentucky. Her stubborn independence, argumentative nature, promiscuity, and drug and alcohol use endeared her to few. But although she was not widely beloved in Roma, her sudden disappearance affected many: Ronnie's sister Susanna, a compassionate school teacher biding time in a failing marriage; Emily, a quietly troubled girl in Susanna's class; Chris, the cool, confident rich boy Emily has has a crush on; Wyatt, a lonely, aging factory worker; and Tony, the detective investigating the case. In exploring the mystery of Ronnie's vanishing, Holly Goddard Jones' affecting novel The Next Time You See Me (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, February 2013) gives voice to the innermost lives of an entire community.
We get to know these characters well - the novel rotates through their points of view, and Jones writes each with such clear feeling that the reader cannot help but come to care for them too. I especially liked Emily for her heartbreaking oddity and innocence; Wyatt for his sadness and complexity; his nurse, Sarah, for her quiet generosity. We see Ronnie mostly through the eyes of others, but her few chapters were among my favorites - as in the excerpt above, she hides a touching vulnerability behind a tough facade. Susanna, though central to the novel, was the character I wasn't quite as moved by. She's very appealing as a devoted teacher and worried sibling, though early on she seemed rather obviously a vehicle for setting the stage of Ronnie's disappearance. The plotline of her failing marriage didn't build up much emotional depth or suspense, and thus fell a little flat for me.
On finishing The Next Time You See Me, I was very curious about the author's acclaimed short fiction collection Girl Trouble (Harper Perennial, 2009) and ordered it immediately. I loved the stories in Girl Trouble without qualification. Here also Jones navigates the physical and emotional territory of Roma and its people, delving deeply into similar themes of motherhood, loss, loneliness, and change with the same compelling voice, but the stories are more tautly written. I enjoyed reading the books closely together (albeit in reverse chronological order) - my appreciation for both only grew. Recommended for literary fiction fans who like novels or stories that run deep and dark.
Thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy of The Next Time You See Me. I purchased my copy of Girl Trouble from Powells.com.