Thursday, August 25, 2011

Never Knowing by Chevy Stephens

Sara Gallagher has a pretty good life - she has a beautiful daughter and a loving fiance, and if her adoptive parents haven't always been as kind to her as they have been to her sisters, well, they've never been outright abusive, either. But when she's given the chance to open her adoption records and look for her birth parents, Sara feels she has to take this chance - until she realizes too late that doing so will embroil her and her young daughter in an open case for a local serial killer...

"Never Knowing" weighs in at 400 pages, but I suspect most readers will feel compelled to finish it in a single sitting - this book is almost impossible to set down. The novel has all the skill and dark beauty as Chevy Stevens' debut novel, "Still Missing", and the narrative device of a young woman confiding in her therapist as events unfold over the course of several sessions is as incredibly compelling as before. And for readers who enjoy shows like "Law & Order" or "CSI", the hunt for the serial killer is intoxicating - full of exciting twists and frustrating pitfalls.

What really makes "Never Knowing" stand out as exceptional is the immediacy of the tension and the reality of the characters. The author clearly has an incredible talent with dysfunctional families and with the 'normal' everyday strife that is almost certain to set off bouts of panic attacks in dangerous situations like the ones our protagonist rapidly finds herself in. It's really fascinating to see how the 'big drama' of the serial-killer-on-the-loose situation interacts with the 'little drama' of dysfunctional families in order to create this thick tension that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. And yet, for all the frustration that the characters create, they always seem extremely immediate and genuine - you never get the sense that the characters are being stupid or stubborn merely for the sake of the plot. Instead, it's simply abundantly clear that these are complex and imperfect humans stuck in terrible situations they aren't prepared to deal with.
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