McClelland & Stewart, March 14, 2017.
When two people go missing within months of each other, both from a small town in western Canada, countless lives are affected. Both were taken in broad daylight – Donny from outside his high school, and Catherine from the parking lot of the restaurant she serves at – but there are no other obvious connections between the two victims. What they do have in common are the many people, from acquaintances to loved ones, who are affected by their absence, and these are the people that narrate this quiet, compelling novel.
Each chapter is told from a different point of view, including Catherine’s husband, her mother, and even her university professor, with whom she was studying a local poet, Julianna Ohlin. The poet was murdered years before, and her body found in a nearby field – although the crime was never solved conclusively, it was likely done by her abusive boyfriend. Catherine admired Julianna’s poems, which were about the mundane moments of everyday life – those moments that we don’t appreciate until they are gone. There are echoes of images between sections/characters – watching the same movies, visiting the same locations – that show the tenuous connections that link people together.
The various perspectives read like short stories, although they are woven together to describe the lives of Catherine, Donny and Julianna. And through Catherine’s eyes, we witness her dramatic escape after her devastating final days of captivity. She is able to return home physically, but mentally she is unable to cope with her new reality. This is a quiet, thoughtful novel despite the violent and sickening crimes it depicts – it is not really a thriller, but more of an exploration of how absence affects those who have been left behind.
In many ways, this novel defies genre – there are elements of mystery, but it is more like literary true crime, with a feeling of being ripped straight from the headlines. The potential of abduction and the thought that it could happen to any of us ignites fear in the reader. We can relate so easily to Catherine, especially as a woman – as her friend describes it, “he made her see that these things can happen, that nothing keeps a girl walking home alone safe and sound except good luck.” (Loc. 1996) The Canadian small town feel made it even more real for me, and I loved the many references unique to life in western Canada.
The subjective reactions of Catherine’s loved ones also felt very real – the novel showcases the many feelings one would work through in the face of such a loss, including the tedious waiting for something, anything to happen, to bring the victim home. And after that, the waiting for her to heal alongside the inability to help. Catherine is such a clearly fleshed-out character with a unique personality, and her suffering feels genuine, especially as glimmers of hope shine through.
Unlike the many, many missing girl thrillers that have been filling the shelves lately, So Much Love goes deeper. The author doesn’t use extreme violence or unbelievable twists to manipulate the reader’s emotions, which made me appreciate this book so much more. I also liked the discussion of the healing power of literature that runs through the novel – Julianna’s escape through poetry, Catherine’s tenuous connection to the outside world through short stories as she tries to re-enter her former life, and of course the many CanLit references that pop up throughout the story. One of the most important aspects of fiction is its ability to teach empathy to readers, and that idea is reinforced throughout this novel. This is much more than a thriller, it is literary fiction that truly makes you think.
I received this book from McClelland & Stewart and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.