The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

Most novels which feature kidnapping are about the victim, or their family, or the police process involved in trying to find them.  Ms Perabo’s novel (which is due for publication in March 2017) is about another aspect/impact of kidnapping.  Meredith Oliver was in the sandwich shop with Lisa Bellow.  Meredith was not kidnapped.

This novel is mostly about the impact of Lisa’s kidnapping on Meredith and her family.  I found it challenging: I wanted answers that Ms Perabo has chosen not to write.  But it made me think as well, of all of the secondary victims of such events.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

‘Why?  Why would a robber become a kidnapper?’

Two eighth-grade girls witness an armed robbery in a sandwich shop.  One of the girls is kidnapped by the robber, the other girl is left behind.  Why?  Meredith Oliver is the girl left behind, and while she figures that Lisa Bellow was taken because she weighed less and was prettier and more popular, she really can’t move past Lisa’s abduction.  What if they’d both been abducted? What if Lisa knew her abductor?

The Oliver family has had a traumatic year. Meredith’s older brother, Evan, a high school baseball star, had his left eye and eye socket crushed by a foul ball.  He is still coming to terms with his injury, still trying to adjust.  Meredith’s parents, Mark and Claire, are dentists who share a practice.  This novel is about how the Oliver family deal with these events, from the perspectives of Meredith and Claire.

‘Grief and hope were cruel bedfellows, incompatible.’

Claire wants to protect her children; Mark realises that they need space.  Meredith becomes obsessed with Lisa’s disappearance; Evan works on his own dreams. And what about Lisa Bellow’s mother?  Can the Oliver family survive?  How?

Reading this novel was like being an observer, unable to intervene in any meaningful way, in another family’s crisis.  I felt for Meredith, as she moves between relief at being left behind and guilt at surviving.  I could understand her freezing as the impact of events hit her, and then rebelling.  How do parents handle this effectively, without adding to the trauma already experienced or alienating the child?  But what about Lisa?  I wanted answers which Ms Perabo has chosen not to give.

Did I enjoy this novel?  No.  Would I read more novels by this author?  Absolutely.  In this novel, Ms Perabo raises a number of uncomfortable issues, creates less than perfect (and completely human) characters.  By focussing this novel on Meredith and her experiences, Ms Perabo reminds us that trauma is varied and complex and that sometimes, even in fiction, there are no satisfactory answers.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith