Book reviews: Two women – one dead
“Before You Know My Name” by Jacqueline Bublitz. Atria/Bestler, 320 pages, $17.99
Australian author Jacqueline Bublitz’s debut delivers a moving and poignant story about two women seeking refuge and a new life in New York City in a gripping plot that echoes “The Lovely Bones.”
Bublitz presents a more nuanced story than Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller as it delves into new beginnings, exploitation, and the need to connect with one another.
On the front page of “Before You Knew My Name,” Bublitz establishes that 18-year-old Alice Lee was murdered shortly after arriving in Manhattan from her small Wisconsin town. But “Before You Knew My Name” is not a story about her murder, and certainly not her killer. It focuses on who Alice was back home, how she reinvented herself, and who she hoped to be.
Growing up in an abusive and neglectful household before landing in foster care, Alice had fallen into an affair with her high school teacher, who took myriad nude photos of her. But just before her 18th birthday, the teacher kicks her out; as she leaves, Alice takes $600 and her precious camera.
Ruby Jones arrives in Manhattan around the same time as Alice, finding a studio not far from Alice although the two women never meet in person. At 36, Ruby is twice Alice’s age, but her reason for leaving Melbourne, Australia is similar. Ruby finally realizes that the co-worker she had an affair with will never break up with his fiancée.
The two women are bonded when Ruby finds Alice’s body in Riverside Park. Ruby feels compelled to find out about this young woman, who had no ID with her and has not been reported missing.
The two women alternately recount “Before You Knew My Name”, with Alice looking back on her life, urging Ruby to come to terms with her death. Each approached New York differently – Alice was happy to have the chance to start over while Ruby was initially sad, fearful of falling back into her old ways. But as the story unfolds, Alice gains a voice she’s often been denied in life, hoping people don’t “just see the shell of me.” Ruby finds strength and purpose in reinventing herself.
Bublitz wisely keeps the killer in the background, making it a story of women finding their power.
‘Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022’ edited by Jess Walter, with series editor Steph Cha. Mariner/HarperCollins, 308 pages, $17.99
The Weekender – South Florida Events
Get a roundup of the best events and things to do in South Florida to make it an epic weekend.
Every few years, publishing pundits lament that the short story is over, citing the number of magazines and other publications that provided outlets for this form having ceased publication. Admittedly, several markets have dried up.
But, at the same time, there’s been a sort of resurgence of short story anthologies from smaller publishers, publishers putting together theme-centric collections like the songs of the Eagles, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, or movies like those by the Marx Brothers. Akashic continues its formidable “Black” series centered on specific cities (San Diego, Tampa Bay, Paris).
And Harper/Collins continues its excellent annual series of themed collections such as food stories, science fiction, science and nature writing, and mystery and suspense.
The aptly titled “Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022” truly delivers on the best mystery stories released that year. Editors Jess Walter and Steph Cha selected this collection from a myriad of anthologies and other publications for stories that highlight the genre. Works by new and established authors appear, with each writer offering a biography and advice on writing the short story. In addition to the 20 stories, the editors included a list of other “distinguished” stories that nearly made the final list.
Among those stars are Tracy Clark, “Lucky Thirteen” and Raquel V. Reyes of Miami, “Mata Hambre”, both first published in “Midnight Hour”; SA Cosby, “An Ache So Divine”, and Gar Anthony Haywood, “Return to Sender”, both from “Jukes & Tonks”; Juliet Grames, “The Very Last Time”, from “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine”; Floridian Lauren Groff, “The Wind” from “The New Yorker”; and Dennis Lehane, “A Bostonian (in Cambridge)” from “Collectibles”.
Each story earned the ‘best’ label.
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.