What have I done? Who is he? Does he know something? Does he know Sylvie? He’s not just a camper who’s been robbed, is he?
A retired married couple living in Maine get a phone call that their schizophrenic daughter has runaway from her institution with her boyfriend Ralph. As they sit at home waiting by the phone for more information, they get phone calls from their daughter Sylvie saying she is in Ohio to get married to Ralph and at other times she is making her way to them, visits from their neighbor Hans and his wife Marte, and a camper claiming he was robbed looking for a place to sleep for the night. These happenings are told from pov chapters from both Carl and Jessie our married couple as they think back on their life and their connection to one another.
“Carl, I have to do this. God is watching me.”
The first half of this was slow nail biting dread as the story has you get to know the nice normal couple but the atmosphere is building the suspense. Interspersed with the happenings are personal stories that help give us a deep delve into Carl and Jessie. We learn that Carl was interned at Birkenau during WWII but Jessie has never really asked about it, she knows but doesn't know.
The second half kind of shifts from the horror suspense angle into psychological thriller with emotional historical fiction leanings. It felt a bit unnatural with characters, Jessie almost starts to join forces with their mysterious camper to learn about Carl's past, acting in a way that was obvious to push this more towards a historical fiction recounting of the atrocities performed at internment camps. This is where I began to lose a lot of enjoyment for the story. I, personally, can find it hard at times to read fictional accounts of such horrific acts, like the Holocaust, in books that are not for educational purposes or non-fiction personal accounts; it starts to feel like salacious horror for entertainment to me. I'm not saying it never works for me but, here, the contrast from the beginning was too jarring.
Sometimes mothers hope against hope for their children.
The mood (stark, dread, building suspense) and writing style (the pov chapters almost read like stream of consciousness at times) in the first half sucked me in but the second half had characters acting in ways that felt unnatural, left some questions unanswered (why was tree so focused on??), and for the most part abandoned it's horror suspense for psychological historical fiction, a transition that didn't work for me.