This novel is about a psychiatrist helping a detective find a missing child. It starts out pretty riveting, back in the 80’s about a missing girl. Then we fast forward to the present and then for about 90 pages it meanders excruciatingly. There’s a character on MadTV called Miss Swan. Whenever you ask her a question, she never answers directly. Instead, she irritatingly goes off about something else incomprehensibly. You probably have friends like this too. It also sucks, because you get teased up front and emotionally vested in this little missing girl and then all the sudden you’re dealing with an horribly boring middle-aged psychiatrist talking about and doing basically nothing as interesting or dramatic including a tangential story about her love life. And then as with all crime thrillers, you’re impatient to get to the ending which ruins the journey. I skimmed it less the second half, but none-the-less, I found myself skimming boring passages seemingly unrelated to the core mystery.
The book does a lot better from the missing kid’s point of view, briefly, heart-wrenching glimpses into his nightmare surreal existence where he refuses to talk or eat and becomes smelly and emaciated. It reminded me of all the kids who get abducted but then are held by their captors for years and become brainwashed by them and suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. In fact, oddly enough, I came across a biography at the same store where I got this book, I believe it was Jaycee Dugard’s story, maybe Elizabeth Smart. When I philosophize about life, wondering why we’re here, one hypothesis is that we are here to learn a lesson, kind of like being in an educational simulator, but the key problem with this is that there are people suffering. Why should someone else have to suffer just so that I can get an education? I find this idea preposterous and wholly unjust. You could argue that the suffering of others is actually part of the simulation and just an illusion, but then you find yourself in the dangerous area of diminishing and discounting the suffering of others. You won’t learn anything doing that. The only acceptable moral solution in my mind is that the suffering and evil are necessary. We are evolving, and that evolution requires suffering and evil. The goal of our evolution is to become stewards, to protect our planet, then our galaxy, and then the entire universe, to spread life, to create a universe filled with diverse life, and then create whole new universes where the process of evolution is repeated, and we can’t do it without suffering and evil. If there is a God, it is not all good and fights all evil. It’s more of a utilitarian and weighs the overall benefits of good against the costs of evil. It cannot eliminate all evil. It is partially evil.
Without giving away the ending, the book basically sucks all around, and you won’t be satisfied in the beginning, the middle, or the end. I sometimes think of authors as little gods, and I think it’s entirely irresponsible to create suffering and death without some sort of meaningful reason, a lesson or even just an innovative creative expression. In this case, suffering and death is just created to titillate, and it’s cheap and meaningless. I sometimes wonder whether our imaginations can create beings in some other universe or place, that all the fiction characters ever created live somewhere in another dimension. It would then be totally irresponsible to screw with them, humiliate them, and make them suffer for no good reason other than our titillation. As a writer myself, I have to respect all my characters to make them ring true, and it’s utterly disrespectful to kill them off or punish them for no good reason. It’s cheap drama. This is some sort of daily sequel. It goes without saying, I won’t be reading Tuesday’s Gone or any other book by Nicci French who happens to be a partnership of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. It is also set in London and I was expecting a little more London flavor than a random mention of sweets and potato chips that at least when I grew up there was called crisps.
There is one redeeming element of this book regarding twins and the mention of all the studies of separated twins and how they grow up so similar. I think the debate between nature and nurture is stupid. Like with all complex organisms or machines, there are multiple inputs that create multiple outputs and emergent properties that cannot be predicted. Stupid people are always trying to explain complex things with one simple model or reason. For instance the surge in crime in 70’s and 80’s were the result of many things including all the Baby Boomers becoming young adults at the same time, the economy, lower tax revenue, drugs, the individualist culture that evolved from the 60’s, etc. While twin studies have shown some remarkable things, like twins taking up the same kinds of jobs or marrying the same kinds of people, it does not prove that we are slave to our instincts and our culture, society, country, family, etc. have very little impact on our lives. Certainly, some of us have instinctive tendencies, perhaps even inclinations toward suicide, homicide, intelligence, athleticism, etc., but those inclinations must be fed and can also be discouraged. Of all animals, we are the most pliable. The proof is rather simple. We are born helpless and must learn most all of our behavior. Of course, there are so many things we owe to nature and instincts, but I think there are so many more things we owe to upbringing. Certainly, it would be great to discover that you have a twin and then to look at that twin’s life and see what things you do similar and different, what things you owe to nature and what to nurture. But if I found out my twin was a closed-minded, bigoted, criminal asshole, it wouldn’t be that shocking. If I found out he was a saint, a kind-hearted, wonderful being, no surprise either. We have huge potential to succeed and fail. But it would be amusing to know if my twin also likes Chardonnay, trance music, traveling, reading, writing, is obsessed with hot women, and drinks like a fish too. But I wouldn’t then turn around and go, see, I have no choice over the matter, I was born to drink like a fish as much as I was born to enjoy Chardonnays. We still retain choice and I can decide at any time when it’s time to change a habit or predisposition. Likewise, if you kidnapped a child and raised it in your screwed up dysfunctional world, unfortunately, you would do irreparable harm to that kid, and no matter how much that kid was predisposed to be a good, caring, kind human, being raised by a kidnapping asshole would very much change that kid.