By Holly Goddard Jones. Touchstone. 384 pages. $24.99
Reviewed by Jason Barr
JASON BARR is a teacher in Harrisonburg.
“The Next Time You See Me” will no doubt be compared to Russell Banks’ “The Sweet Hereafter,” primarily because the structure is the same: the author portrays the change in town relationships in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.
Yet, because of the depth of characterization and literary skill, Holly Goddard Jones’ novel would better be compared to Dennis Lehane’s “Mystic River,” which is probably one of the best literary mysteries of the past few decades.
Jones uses the disappearance of Ronnie Eastman, a freewheeling woman of somewhat ill repute in the town, to examine a series of characters.
Jones provides the reader with the usual suspects: the sister of the victim, the girl who found her body, the cop on the case, and the murderer himself, but she also expands the narrative dramatically to include the young girl’s teacher, her parents, the girl’s crush (who also happens to be her bully), the sister’s husband and so on.
As Jones expands her scope to include a wide array of figures in the town, the author sometimes struggles to keep the underlying plot — the disappearance and death of Ronnie — at front and center.
This is a good thing, for the mystery itself and its somewhat rushed resolution are standard fare that can be found in the reader’s choice of mystery novels.
What sets “The Next Time You See Me” apart is that it delves into literary fiction more than into the mystery genre; people become fully fleshed, and the reader forms sympathetic relationships with many of them as they struggle to not only make sense of the tragedy, but also in the more mundane struggles of everyday life.
Ronnie’s sister, Susanna, is trying to hold together a disintegrating marriage while trying to find some satisfaction in her life as a teacher. The detective, Tony, is still coming to terms with his past as a star baseball player who became washed up a little more quickly that he had planned.
If there can be one criticism about “The Next Time You See Me,” it is that Jones tends to struggle with portraying the wealthier members of town, and they often speak and are described in a strangely disjointed fashion, as if they are caricatures of wealth rather than real people.
The presence of Nita Shelton and her son Christopher, then, sometimes threaten to bring the narrative to a halt, but Jones admirably keeps going, and thankfully keeps them away from the reader’s mind for significant lengths.
This is only a minor issue, however, and those who prefer mature, well-written and intelligent literary fiction with just a dash of mystery would be advised to read “The Next Time You See Me.”