Tuesday, January 14, 2020

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

Elisabeth's sister has been missing for over twenty years, but Elisabeth knows, without a doubt, that Jacqueline is still alive. They're twins after all, and Elisabeth is certain that she'd know if Jacqueline was dead.

Elisabeth and her family live in remote Tanacross, Alaska. It's 1941 and her husband has been hired to teach the children of the town. Theirs is the only house with a spare room, and since it's technically owned by the Office of Indian Affairs, Elisabeth feels she cannot turn down a request for lodging by the pilot who has recently flown in with their weekly mail delivery. This, in spite of the fact that the stranger is odd and worries her some. But he is a fellow German and says he only needs to stay the night, to rest before he resumes his route.

It's a decision that results in tragedy. And then the man claims to have information about Elisabeth's sister.

Life in Tanacross is quiet. The town can only be reached by plane and, given that it's 1941, that means they're effectively cut off from the outside world. Mail delivery day means letters, special orders, and any other supplies.

On the day the book starts, Elisabeth is up early at the behest of her daughter who is anxiously awaiting the delivery of a science book her mother ordered for their homeschooling. That is the kind of excitement they can look forward to in Tanacross.

But the arrival of a stranger is nothing to shrug at. And their mail carrier that day is a stranger. A German stranger at that. He says he feels a kinship with Elisabeth because she's German as well. But Elisabeth doesn't exactly feel that kinship. In fact, she finds the stranger odd.

Unfortunately she doesn't listen to that instinct.

How Quickly She Disappears isn't a long book but it is a bit of a slow burn. I have to say, I enjoyed the pacing immensely. In the first two parts of the book, chapters alternate between Elisabeth's present and her childhood, giving readers the full scope of her relationship with her sister and the events leading up to her disappearance.

It's clear that for Elisabeth, almost nothing matters as much as the question of her sister's fate and the stranger plays on that, baiting her almost from the moment they meet. It's intense and the reader, and Elisabeth, are left guessing as to how all of this is going to end.

I loved the setting in particular, both time and place. the remoteness of Tanacross and the equally remote nature of the time when the book is set intrigued me even before I started reading. And the author delivered a completely atmospheric read.

How Quickly She Disappears is a chilling debut, literally and figuratively.

No comments: