Title: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.
It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. Her body was never found, just a shattered cellphone and a solitary hiking boot. Her husband and teenage daughter have been coping with Billie’s death the best they can: Jonathan drinks as he works on a loving memoir about his marriage; Olive grows remote, from both her father and her friends at the all-girls school she attends.
But then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother, still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he understood about his wife. Who was the woman he knew as Billie Flanagan?
Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, but also about themselves, learning, in the process, about all the ways that love can distort what we choose to see. Janelle Brown’s insights into the dynamics of intimate relationships will make you question the stories you tell yourself about the people you love, while her nervy storytelling will keep you guessing until the very last page.
Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is an intriguing mystery about a grieving father and daughter who are trying to uncover the truth about what happened to wife and mother Billie Flannagan who went missing during a weekend hike.
In the year since Billie disappeared, Jonathan has made little progress working through his grief over her presumed death. He quit his job in order to write a memoir about their life together but he is floundering financially as he waits to have Billie declared legally dead in order to wrap up the financial details of her assumed death. His relationship with his daughter Olive is a bit of a mess as he avoids broaching any subject that could upset the fragile bond between them. After an unexpected discovery that Billie was not telling him the truth about some of her weekends away from home, Jonathan uncovers stunning information that gives him a very different perspective about his wife, her past and their marriage.
Sixteen year old Olive is convinced her sudden visions are psychic messages from her mother. She is also quite certain that her mom is, in fact, still alive and she immediately begins trying to find her. She is also feeling extremely guilty that she began distancing herself from her mother in an attempt to escape her overbearing attempts to force Olive to follow in her footsteps. This single-minded attempt to track down her mom wreaks havoc on her schoolwork and her friendships.
Although Billie has been missing for almost a year, her presence is keenly felt throughout the novel. Initially, her relationship with Jonathan is portrayed through rose-colored, romanticized glasses but this eventually changes as he begins to fully grasp how carefully she manipulated past events and avoided answering probing questions in an attempt to portray herself in the best possible light. Olive also puts a positive spin on Billie’s intensity and her attempts to shape her daughter in her image. Billie is never a likable or particularly sympathetic character and the negative impressions of her are only reinforced with each new revelation about her past, her marriage and her parenting style.
While the premise of Watch Me Disappear is unique and should be riveting, the novel is incredibly slow-paced. Olive is a vibrantly developed and immensely appealing character and her reactions and decisions about her mother ring true. Jonathan is a little more difficult to like due to his hands off approach to parenting his grief-stricken daughter. Equally troubling are some of his lame-brain decisions and his lack of motivation to truly fix the financial mess he has made for himself. Janelle Brown throws a few unexpected twists and turns into the unfolding story and she brings the novel to a rather stunning conclusion.