If you don’t get that reference, it’s probably because you don’t own sixteen volumes of Fruits Basket. Unlike me. Because I’m lame. And now, poor.
Miyuke Miyabe, Shadow Family
A middle-aged man and a young woman are murdered in different ways, at different locations, and several days apart, but physical evidence links the two crimes. Police are stymied about a possible motive, but then they discover that the man had a “shadow family”: instead of spending time with his real-life wife and daughter, he was emailing and chatting with three people who pretended to be his wife, daughter, and son.
I actually wanted to read another book by this author–All She Was Worth–but booksfree offered this one up first, and beggars cannot be choosers. It was…underwhelming, to say the least. I’m still going to read All She Was Worth when it eventually comes up, but I’ve definitely decided against buying it because of Shadow Family. To begin with, the prose was beyond terrible. I usually make a point of not picking on word choice or phrasing in foreign-language novels, because I just don’t think it’s fair to judge a writer by her translator. But this was so bad, y’all. I don’t know if it was Miyabe’s fault or translator Juliet Winters’, but either way, the prose was actually painful to read. Ugh.
As for the plot itself–well, let’s just say that it shows its age. Shadow Family was first published in 2001, back when The Sims was a big deal and ordinary people actually spent time in chat rooms. So what probably seemed like a new and fresh idea at the time–man forms entire family over the internet!–is now just kind of…eh. I’m like, “Didn’t I see an episode of Law & Order where something like that happened? And then an episode of SVU where something similar (but different from the plot on L&O, of course!) happened? And then an episode of…yeah, you get the point.” The theme of human beings trying to form essential relationships via the internet is an important one, but I feel like the fear-mongering, “it will only lead to suffering!” interpretation of it is played out. Not Miyabe’s fault–I doubt it was done to death in 2001–but it doesn’t make for very interesting reading seven years later.
Recommended for: You know, I’m not going to lie: this was pretty dreadful, but it kept me reasonably entertained on a rainy Sunday afternoon when I was feeling sluggish. If you find yourself in similar circumstances, have at it.
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Oh, guys. Oh guys. This actually made me cry a little, and that’s no mean feat, considering my abnormally dry eyes and my shriveled, withered heart. The premise itself is heartbreaking: in the mid-1970s, two sisters, Sunny and Heather Bethany, disappeared from a Baltimore mall. One was almost twelve, the other was fifteen. They were never found. Thirty years later, a woman is involved in a hit-and-run accident; she’s the person who did the hitting and the running, so in an effort to weasel out of being charged, she claims to be the younger of the two Bethany girls. The thing is, she doesn’t appear to be lying-she knows all sorts of details about the crime itself, and seems very familiar with the events of the Bethanys’ woefully short lives. And yet she also withholds crucial information (such as the location of her older sister’s body), and just seems…off to the police involved in her case.
The mystery in this one was very well-done; I changed my mind about whether the woman actually was Heather Bethany (the younger victim) about four or five times. I had no idea who she was, what she was doing, or why she was doing it until the very end–and looking back, I can’t say it’s because I was a sloppy reader. Lippman’s strength isn’t in immediately presenting you with all the information you need but downplaying the parts that really matter; her strategy is to withhold the tiniest, most important pieces until the very end, and then whallop you over the head with them. Is that cheating? Yeah, kind of. But it totally works.
I will have to spoil you to tell you what I really loved about this book, though. Join me after the cut if you’re not a big scaredy-pants boo boo head.