By G. Robert Frazier
In this age of instant information — where seemingly everything about everyone is readily available with a few clicks of a mouse – it’s surprising how much we really don’t know about the people closest to us. Billie Flanagan, for instance, the missing woman in New York Times bestselling author Janelle Brown’s engrossing new novel, Watch Me Disappear, harbors more than her share of secrets from her husband, Jonathan, and daughter, Olive. Secrets that slowly, inevitably, surface as the pair dig further and further into her year-long absence and her mysterious past.
At first blush, Billie’s disappearance while hiking in a remote California wilderness is symptomatic of the way she lived – care-free, adventuresome, and daring. With no body to bring home, however, it takes a year before the courts can begin proceedings to officially rule her dead and move matters through probate. Jonathan and Olive mark the impending anniversary in vastly different ways.
Jonathan wrestles with a growing sense of finality, racked by questions such as how long it had taken his wife to die, if she suffered, hurt and helpless after a fall, and whether he could have done more to find her and bring her home safe. When Jonathan discovers an excess of funds missing from his bank account, he begins to suspect that Billie was having an affair and saving up to leave him.
Olive, meanwhile, nurtures seeds of growing doubt and denial, particularly after suddenly begins experiencing visions of her mother imploring her to keep searching: “Why aren’t you looking for me? You aren’t trying hard enough.” The visions – which grow in frequency and intensity – raise questions about Olive’s own state of mind. Is she so grief-stricken that her mind is playing tricks? Or is she in fact tapping into some weird supernatural connection to her long-lost mother?
Together, the pair embark on an investigation into Billie’s mysterious past, the people in her life, and the secrets she kept from them. With each new discovery, the suspense – and the very real possibility that Billie is indeed alive and has forsaken them – takes firm root. Throughout it all, Brown poses the question of how well do we really know those we’re closest to?
Brown, who won wide acclaim for her previous books, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and This is Where We Live, expertly captures the voice and anxiety of father and daughter, creating a compelling page-turner of a book. The final reveals are emotional and, while not totally unexpected, linger well after “The End.”