"The earthquake tore open the surfaces of her life and through the cracks oozed a kind of mud she never knew was there."
In October 1989, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake rocked Northern California, collapsing buildings, buckling streets, disrupting the World Series as it was broadcast live on television, and famously felling a section of a busy freeway. This quake also brought the walls down around author Maureen O'Leary, trapping her under her desk, which saved her, while tragically killing several people in an adjacent coffeeshop.
The powerful, complicated emotions one can only begin to imagine in such an experience are the compelling heart of O'Leary's novel The Ghost Daughter (Coffeetown Press, 2016). In it, the Loma Prieta earthquake both precipitates a series of life-changing events for four women - who are survivors in every sense of the word - and becomes an apt metaphor for the turmoil unleashed within themselves. Angel, a young woman with a murky history, is trapped under the rubble for days but is rescued, emerging battered and broken and finding herself, unwelcomingly, an instant celebrity. Her sudden fame leads to recognition, unearthing a long-buried secret of her past. The novel explores the undeniable yet dangerous connections between Angel; her adoptive mother, Judith; Reese, a recent widow; and a determined but compassionate detective, Laura Redleaf. The quake breaks each of them open and shakes the very foundations of their beings, baring their deepest vulnerabilities, forcing them to draw on their innermost strengths, and ultimately forging new and healing connections.
I loved these tough, raw, and complicated women and read eagerly, carried along by the suspenseful unveiling of their shared history, and uplifted by the novel's moving conclusion. Behind their narratives lies a common villain, an influential and brutal man. While his cruelty was necessary to the plot, his relentlessness sometimes felt one-dimensional, and I wouldn't have minded just a little more nuance in his character - but nonetheless. Recommended for readers who like strong-yet-flawed women with more heart and more grit than they know.
I received a complimentary review copy of The Ghost Daughter from the publisher.