by: Karen Brown
There has been a spate of thrillers written by women over the past few years, and while this is not as ubiquitous as zombies or sexy vampires, to my mind, at least, the results have been far better, "The Longings of Wayward Girls", by Karen Brown seems to be just such a book. Uneasily straddling the lines between thriller and mainstream novel, this book comes down a bit on the side of the latter. It is the story of Sadie Watkins, told in alternating chapters by Ms. Brown; her life as a thirteen year old in the past tense, and her life twenty years later. Both styles are fluently handled by Ms. Brown, full of telling and evocative description, but bogged down at times by a surfeit of detail.
Young Sadie, at thirteen craves adventure. Her and her best friend Betty steal their mother's cigarettes, lead the neighborhood girls in creating plays and go joyriding with older boys. One of their games however is tricking a lonely neighborhood girl into believing that she has a pen pal boyfriend and foreshadows a series of events that will so change all of their lives. The other Sadie, married with two children and a successful, if somewhat distant attorney has just lost her third child to a miscarriage, and seems to be lost and adrift, if not paralyzed with grief then frozen and emotionless. Ms. Brown deftly shows us Sadie's emptiness in a series of scenes where she seems like a ghost in search of a story. As the stories of Sadie's past and present continued to entwine, the present narrative snaps back to life in the last third of the book, as a swarm of revelations about Sadie 's mother's life, and death, and the disappearance of the girl that Sadie and Betty tricked, dovetail into a strong and powerful ending.
Ms. Brown is at her best in the chapter dealing with Sadie's early life. Sadie and her friends, and their mothers, all are vivid and believable characters, the story is strong and assured. The story of her adult life is more hit-and-miss. The life of Sadie and her friends, the entire suburban mothers and their daily lives are beautifully and carefully drawn. Ms. Brown's subtle prose seems unsuited to dealing with the surprising series of events that damage and destroy peoples’ lives. The shocking bombshells in the finale went off more like a roll of caps. Despite my misgivings about the middle section of the novel "The Longing of Wayward Girls" is a very good book. Few writers have done such a fine job at capturing the rhythms of everyday life, and then slowly twisting them so show the disturbing underbelly.