The holes in our lives require energy. Everything after must be arranged around that absence, and that effort often continues the devastation. In After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman takes the disappearance of one shady businessman, Felix Brewer, and follows the repercussions on his wife, daughters, and mistress.
Facing a decade of jail time, Felix had his mistress, Julie Saxony, sneak him out of town on July 4, 1976. Ten years later, almost to the day, Julie disappears and later turns up dead. Felix’s wife, Bambi, is periodically questioned for both cases, but decades later, both are unsolved. His three daughters — Linda, Rachel, and Michelle — have dealt with losing their father in varying ways, but only Linda and Rachel remember what it was like to have Felix around.
[E]ven as Linda was abandoning herself in the moment, she was also giving in to the pragmatic person she was meant to be. She would have to take care of both of them, she thought, circling her legs around his waist. She had to take care of everyone. That was okay; she was used to it. She remembered walking up the front walk, after the fireworks at the club. Her mother knew before they crossed the threshold How had she known? […] “Will we ever see him again?” Rachel had asked. Linda knew they would not.
We are also introduced to Sandy Sanchez, a Cuban-American former police officer now doing cold case consulting for the department. His own life is built up around absences, and after being reminded of the Felix Brewer and Julie Saxony cases, he feels compelled to work on them again. It’s 2012, and memories are fuzzy — sometimes willfully — but he senses that something is the file that will finally solve these disappearances.
The books jumps around time periods and points-of-view, with large sections titled after lyrics to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” Felix and Bambi also meet at a dance where The Orioles play, a real life R&B group based out of Baltimore, where After I’m Gone is set. In 1952, they had a hit called “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
I’m not well-versed in modern crime fiction, but the book is different enough from that “one last case before retirement” trope to keep it interesting. However, I’m still not sure After I’m Gone was the book for me.
It’s a bit of a slow-burn, this novel. Not until the last third of the book did it pick up the pace and have me trying to anticipate the ending. Prior to that, it’s not as though I didn’t care, but I wasn’t very invested either. Some of this, I suspect, was having to juggle the different characters and time settings. Because of some health issues, I have trouble with that type of writing sometimes, and while this comprehension problem annoys me to no end, I want to emphasize that this will not likely be the case with most readers. My concentration-fogging issues are irritating for me, in no small part because they alter my perspective so.
And isn’t that its own kind of absence? I remember what it was like to read in-depth and to read challenging work without much strain — and to recall details easily! And while I use review writing to exercise that part of my brain, I don’t yet know if I’ll feel any closure on the matter. For now, I must work around the brain fog, and maybe one day, I’ll accept it.
Of course, having trouble with certain novels is not the same as mysteriously losing a father or a partner. After I’m Gone does well with sifting through all that simmering anger, jealousy, sadness and other damages. Every person is fighting to live well and never quite gets there. Perhaps the length of the book and its initially slow pace speak to that struggle. After decades, resolution seems like it might never come.
The more honest you were with yourself, the less you had to worry about the world’s opinion. […] Tell the truth whenever possible, and start with yourself.
So while this wasn’t one of my favorites that I’ve read lately, After I’m Gone is still enjoyable. Take stock in what you need in a story, and perhaps you will feel differently. The sum of our experiences influences all.
Full Disclosure: William Morrow provided an advanced review copy, so my pull quotes may differ slightly from the finished edition. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews. This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.