Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: Watch Me Disappear

Summary: Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. Her body was never found, just a shattered cellphone and a solitary hiking boot. Her husband and teenage daughter have been coping with Billie’s death the best they can: Jonathan drinks as he works on a loving memoir about his marriage; Olive grows remote, from both her father and her friends at the all-girls school she attends.

But then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother, still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he understood about his wife. Who was the woman he knew as Billie Flanagan?

Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, but also about themselves, learning, in the process, about all the ways that love can distort what we choose to see. Janelle Brown’s insights into the dynamics of intimate relationships will make you question the stories you tell yourself about the people you love, while her nervy storytelling will keep you guessing until the very last page. -- Speigel & Grau

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR by Janelle Brown has sure been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks. It's been sitting on my shelf since June; however, I finally decided to pick it up and see what all of the fuss is about. Well, I have to say, this novel is certainly a page-turner; and I think the author has written a compelling mystery. However, what I appreciated the most about this novel was the portrayal of a family in crisis.

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR delves into the story of the disappearance of Billie Flanagan, mother to Olive and wife to Jonathan. She was a stay-at-home mom who left one weekend for a solo hike and never returned. Her body was never found, and Olive and Jonathan have been reeling for the past year.

Jonathan has quit his high-paying job and is writing a book about his and Billie's marriage, while Olive attends an all-girls school that Jonathan can no longer afford. Billie appears to have been the glue that held the family together because both Olive and Jonathan are struggling with her disappearance and their relationship with each other.

And then things really turn upside down for these two. Olive begins having seizures and ultimately visions of her mother. She believes that Billie is alive and in trouble somewhere, while Jonathan has given up on all hope of her survival. However between writing the memoir and listening to his daughter, he starts to think that maybe there's more to her disappearance than just a hiking accident. He learns that his marriage wasn't as strong as he had thought and his wife was definitely keeping some major secrets from him. Both Olive and Jonathan are determined to discover the truth about Billie... even if that truth ends up being painful.

I enjoyed WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, but I'm not certain I loved it like some readers and reviewers. Maybe it was unfair expectations, but I didn't end up loving it despite strong writing and a solid plot... and I can't say exactly why. There is nothing negative that I can say about this novel so maybe it was just my mood while reading it.

The mystery of Billie's disappearance in WATCH ME DISAPPEAR is definitely intriguing. From the get-go, I wondered if she were really dead or had chosen to leave her "perfect" family. As Billie's story was gradually revealed, there were layer upon layer of secrets revealed. I definitely suspected that there was something very fishy about her life... and her death. The author did a great job of giving clues to the reader, and the ending, which was rather unexpected, was extremely satisfying in my opinion.

However, I found the real beauty of this novel to be the portrayal of the family -- both before Billie's disappearance and after. The book was written in flashbacks (many times through Jonathan's draft of his memoir), and I appreciated how the author used this technique to give insight into their family life as well as Billie's childhood and early adult years. Billie was a fascinating character who never seemed to be at peace with her life as a Berkeley mother and wife.

In addition, because Billie's body was never found, her family had no closure. In many ways, there weren't able to move on with their lives. Olive, being a teenage girl who desperately missed her mother, even began having supernatural visions of her. Naturally, she believed Billie was alive and asking for help. Meanwhile, instead of trying to move one, Jonathan was focusing on writing a book about the past and his marriage with a very dynamic woman. As a reader, I could understand how these two needed to move on but my heart also broke because how could they? There was just so much they didn't know about Billie's life and death.

Because the dynamics of this family were so interesting, I believe WATCH ME DISAPPEAR would make a fantastic book club selection, especially if your group enjoys mysteries. I was excited to find this reading guide with nine thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, secrets, father/daughter relationships, marriage, psychic abilities, love and healing.

Overall, I do think WATCH ME DISAPPEAR is a highly readable thriller. I definitely recommend it to fans of womens fiction and mysteries.

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I finished this on audio and felt the same way. I was gripped by the beginning of the book but I thought the middle dragged some and wanted a little more from the end. I know that sounds like I didn't like it but I did. I just didn't love it.

Kelly-Belly said...

I've got this one on hold at the excited! :)

Mystica said...

I like the sound of this one.

The Book Sage said...

I think I liked it more than you and Kathy. For me it was a 3.5/4. My opinion MIGHT be swayed by the fact that I'm trying to get the author to come to our book club. But I did like it a lot.