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Watch Me Disappear

Review

Watch Me Disappear

Berkeley wife and mother Billie Flanagan has been missing for one year. She disappeared during a solo hiking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail, leaving nothing but a boot and a grieving husband and daughter in her wake.

Since Billie’s disappearance, her husband Jonathan and daughter Olive have struggled to find closure with the “missing, presumed dead” label plastered across her case. At the same time, they have found themselves unable to fully move on, as the various legal proceedings involved in a missing person’s case --- namely, the lack of a life insurance payout --- continue to affect them on a daily basis. For Jonathan, this means many late nights with a bottle of bourbon and the memoir he has begun to write about his life with Billie. Sixteen-year-old Olive, who was already introverted before her mother’s disappearance, has retreated even further into her shell. At her stuffy prep school, unfortunately, this behavior only serves to draw more attention from her snobby, judgmental peers.

"Brown’s writing is lovely, and her use of figurative language often made me wonder if she has ever written poetry. The fluidity with which she creates her story combined with the stark coldness of Billie provide the reader with some truly beautiful passages."

As you can see, the Flanagans are more or less falling apart without Billie. As the anniversary nears, it appears that they are both on the edge of a precipice. The time has come for them to make decisions about how they will move on, but neither of them are willing to speak about Billie or truly examine their lives with her. When Olive begins having hallucinatory visions of her mother, it seems as if they finally have an answer regarding Billie’s fate, but the visions are too real and she starts to believe that her mother is alive.

Jonathan is terrified of Olive’s visions at first. He worries that the stress of Billie’s disappearance has finally pushed her over the edge. But then again, they never did find a body. Under the guise of conducting research for his memoir, Jonathan begins to investigate the last year of his wife’s life. When details start to conflict, he wonders if Olive is right and, more importantly, if the Billie he has discovered is one he even wants to find again.

As Jonathan and Olive butt heads and learn to reform their familial bonds, they finally begin to examine their relationships with Billie more thoroughly. Several characters from her past return and with them come several different versions of Billie, some of which are very unlikable. What emerges is the portrait of a complicated, perhaps dishonest woman --- a woman who was fiercely headstrong and independent, yet deeply insecure; bossy and detached, yet easily hurt. The only thing that is clear is that neither Jonathan nor Olive truly knew Billie --- and perhaps no one else did, either.

Author Janelle Brown weaves a complicated yet evenly paced mystery with a satisfying ending. Though she throws in plenty of red herrings, the plot is developed enough to carry them without distracting the reader. Her characters are well written, with their motives clear and understandable. Olive is the true star of WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, and her growth was wonderful to track throughout the novel. Jonathan, meanwhile, was the perfect grieving widower. Although I did not always agree with his actions, I understood them and enjoyed Brown’s careful handling of him.

That said, I wish Brown had devoted just a bit more time to her supporting cast, namely Harmony, Billie’s best friend who steps in to help her grieving family. I feel that there is much to be explored with Harmony, although she often came off as a bit archetypal. I would be remiss to avoid discussing Olive’s visions, the only vaguely paranormal aspect of the story. Unfortunately, these passages just did not work for me. Brown has shown that she is able to craft a well-paced mystery with strong characters, and I often found that these visions distracted me from the plot rather than adding to it.

Overall, WATCH ME DISAPPEAR is an easy, well-conceived summer suspense story. Brown’s writing is lovely, and her use of figurative language often made me wonder if she has ever written poetry. The fluidity with which she creates her story combined with the stark coldness of Billie provide the reader with some truly beautiful passages. At the same time, the well-paced reveal of Billie’s true path makes for an intriguing mystery with plenty of dramatic reveals along the way. Those who loved books like THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and GONE GIRL but want a more family-friendly main character will thoroughly enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 11, 2017

Watch Me Disappear
by Janelle Brown

  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
  • ISBN-10: 0812989465
  • ISBN-13: 9780812989465