Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.
I suppose my one gripe about "The Fall of Lisa Bellow" by Susan Perabo is that, if the revolving incident is a story about a kidnapping, it is perhaps tidiest (and most comforting in terms of storytelling) to come to some kind of resolution. A beautiful book, with interesting female characters, that unfortunately falls prey to the desire to be more mysterious than it is and focuses too heavily on the psychology of an incident versus the incident itself.
Meredith's family is still reeling from her brother, Evan's baseball accident that left him blind in one eye. She survives a robbery at a local deli where another girl from her 8th grade class is kidnapped, seemingly for no reason. She becomes obsessed with Lisa Bellows, a girl she had simultaneously hated and revered (like most popular 13-year-old girls, of course) afterwards, imagining the apartment where she was kept and the things that were happening to her.
Simultaneously, her mother struggles to parent two children who have now been inexplicably hurt by forces that she could not control or protect them from. Just as with the Lisa storyline, this storyline, at the end, felt dropped and did not seem to have much of a resolution, except that Claire managed to carry Meredith out of a bathtub. Which I guess means their relationship has healed or something?
The book felt, in some ways, as if it got rushed to finish at the end. (Almost like it was a NaNoWriMo novel that Susan got bored with two days before the end of November!)
One chapter, it's the day after Thanksgiving; and then, the next chapter, the last chapter it turns out, is just before Christmas break. In that time, we skip two or three weeks of time. It's confusing; it's nonsensical; it tries to be tidy when it isn't. Perhaps Susan Perabo wanted to show that healing from trauma sometimes happens in skips and jumps, or sometimes one big thing happens and then it's a slow roller coaster from there. Either way, it feels abrupt: one moment, Meredith has a freak out at Colleen Bellow's house where Colleen gives Meredith a hardcore sleeping pill and the next moment, she finally tells Colleen the last thing Lisa said to her and then tells her mom she's ready. Then the book ends. That's it! For the reader, it's not a comforting, or complete, ending.
That didn't, however, stop me from giving the book a solid rating of four out of five stars--it's just that good, despite the lack of resolution. (Perhaps some authors would argue that the purpose of the book isn't resolution, but I would argue that good storytelling relies on resolution, ultimately. To subvert that requires the novel to have a wider, larger purpose or point and I'm not convinced that "The Fall of Lisa Bellow" achieves that, despite being a great novel.)
The weakest plot line, really, centered around Meredith's mother, Claire. The book seemed to want to be the story of a mother and daughter, but it seemed to be more the story of a mother who doesn't really like her daughter very much, who prefers her son, except that her son doesn't like her very much, so ultimately, she doesn't really like any of them, her son, her daughter, or her husband. She seems to have contempt for every single character, but not for any clearly definable reason.
It's all very unfortunate, but when Claire isn't likable (even in the slightest), or relatable, or magnetic, it all falls a bit flat. (I will say, I admire where authors write female characters that are unlikable, complicated, messy, and/or honest. But in this case, I don't think Claire is really any of those things; she is simply a character that I cannot bring myself to care about whatsoever because she seems to have no purpose or motivation.)
I have a hard time sympathizing with Claire or understanding her motivations for anything; even as a mother myself, I found myself questioning why she was making things so difficult for her children, her husband, and herself. Sometimes we are all our own worst enemies, but at a certain point, you have to realize that. Why fight your son who wants to play baseball again? Why make him feel bad about it? Why bully her own daughter? Why not be on her daughter's side for once? She's clearly an unhappy character, made to represent a woman trapped in a life where she was unaware that parenthood would be difficult. The part of the novel, where she expresses surprise that parenting would be a difficult job and not always happy, is the easily most unbelievable of the novel. Almost every parent realizes, about 6 hours after you give birth, that parenting is the hardest shit you've ever done and it doesn't get any easier until you die.
Meredith's storyline is more interesting. She moves from being what she refers to as "middle-popular"--better than some girls in her 8th grade class, but definitely not popular-popular--to being in the popular crowd, all because she witnessed Lisa's abduction. For the sake of this review, let me say now, I think Lisa was abducted by her mother's boyfriend; her mother was involved and is stressed out about it, that's why she gets weird; and that Lisa is dead way before the end of the novel. Ultimately, Meredith's trauma-induced hallucinations are just that, hallucinations, and Colleen knows the entire time that her boyfriend killed her daughter. I wish, however, that there was some kind of real resolution to that, that we actually knew the full story. My guess is based entirely on conjecture.
Her transformation is almost instantaneous: Lisa's friends want her around, Lisa's mom wishes her to be part of the group, and her old friends become annoying enough that she's ok leaving them behind. By the end of the novel, she's rapidly unraveling, imagining an alternate reality where she's with Lisa, but at the same time, obsessing over an algebra problem. (I hate algebra, so I'll admit to skipping over the detailed explanations of math I surely learned in the 9th grade and have willed myself to forget.)
Personally, it all gets a little too convoluted, a little too strange. I wanted to know what was happening, but I never got an explanation. At the end, I wanted to know if Meredith was ok, if Claire had reported Colleen for giving Meredith a freaking sleeping pill after guilt tripping her into staying at her house (honestly, what kind of parent WOULDN'T call 911 if you find your daughter knocked out in a strange woman's bath tub?), if Lisa survived. I needed a resolution, but there was none.
That being said, it was a beautifully written book with a gripping plot. I just wish that it hadn't been so hastily ended.