A parent's worst nightmare captured in Rebecca Drake's novel about a kidnapping
December 18, 2016 12:00 AM
"Only Ever You," by Rebecca Drake.
By Susan Pearlstein
In her debut novel “Only Ever You,” Pittsburgh author Rebecca Drake accomplishes one of the primary goals of every suspense author: Make the reader want to turn the pages quickly to know what happens next.
In classic thriller style, Ms. Drake sets the pace on page one, sentence one: “On the day her life began to unravel, Jill Lassiter smeared sunscreen on her 3-year-old daughter’s soft skin…” By the end of the second page, the novel’s initial crisis is upon us: the child has disappeared and the mother is frantic.
"ONLY EVER YOU"
By Rebecca Drake Thomas Dunne Books ($25.99).
And, because in only two pages the author has skillfully established the heroine as a sympathetic protagonist — leaning down to make it easier for her daughter to grasp her hand; helping another mom with her unruly children — we already empathize with and root for Jill, and for a happy resolution.
Jill and her rising-through-the ranks lawyer husband, David, are an upwardly-mobile young couple, aspiring themselves into a Fox Chapel residence they can afford thanks to the recession’s downward pricing of homes in this remarkably affluent neighborhood. Their child’s abduction and the ensuing action leads readers through various realistically portrayed Pittsburgh neighborhoods, but you don’t have to live anywhere near Allegheny County to appreciate this tale of a parent’s worst nightmare come true.
Wisely, Ms. Drake does not limit the novel to one simple, formulaic will-this-child-be-found plot line. She delves into the effect the kidnapping has on all parties involved, including the child’s parents, their friends and relatives, the community at large, and the police force. These complications give meaning and nuance to Jill’s agonized attempts to respond appropriately to the crisis that has become her life. Upping the ante even further, Ms. Drake presents readers with several possible villains.
As none of them are entirely evil, and because the author provides insights into their motivations, readers are permitted to understand what drives these various antagonists to act as they do.
Ms. Drake grounds the suspenseful drama in observant details of everyday life. Photographer Jill “balanced her cell phone between ear and shoulder as she loaded camera cases, tripods, and other equipment into the trunk of her van.” Who has not performed some similar balancing act countless times as we multi-task our way through busy days? The scheming and pressures of husband David’s efforts to become a partner in a large law firm are realistically portrayed. The details of the police investigation into their daughter’s kidnapping are authentic enough to grab and hold a reader’s attention.
Ms. Drake creates a charismatic character in Jill Lassiter, mother of willful, 3-year-old Sophia, who may appear to many as more fearless and determined than any child that age has a right to be.
Tension mounts steadily through this page-turner; as one crisis is resolved, the next immediately rears its head.
While Jill’s and the reader’s anxiety continuously escalates as the novel careens toward its climax, the climax itself is the one significant false note in the novel. Jill’s final day in “Only Ever You” provides her and her sympathetic readers with so many twists, turns and events occurring in such a compressed time frame that it becomes almost impossible to believe in the final resolution.
But because most readers will be, by this time, so invested in the heroine and panting to know the outcome of the many intertwined crises with which she must wrestle, they will undoubtedly overlook the troublesome implausibility of the denouement and simply be glad that they took this wild, gripping ride with Jill.
Susan Pearlstein is a Pittsburgh attorney who volunteers at the Carnegie Free Library of Swissvale.
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