"Pieces of Her" by Karin Slaughter
When I was a teenager — back before Netflix and even pre-DVD — I happened upon a made-for-TV movie called A Will of Their Own.
And I became fucking obsessed.
Because I’m a nerd… and nerds don’t just like things. They become literally fucking obsessed with things.
So, here's the thing... It was not a good movie.
It was cheesy and full of cliches and poorly paced.
But despite all of these flaws — and belying the fact that, even at that tender age, I was already a sometimes harshly critical consumer of media — I didn't fucking care.
There was a lot that I loved about this movie:
The historical settings
The fact that it introduced me to the word "chagrin" — which is, to this day, my favorite word.
The inclusion of Thomas Gibson with artificially salt-and-peppered hair
But what I think I loved most was the entire premise. It was, essentially, about these robust and unstoppable women spanning the generations of this one family.
Understandably, as the lone daughter to a single mother, the relationships depicted — kinda hamfistedly, TBH — would intrigue me.
And, though Pieces of Her, the latest effort by the enviably prolific Karin Slaughter, is definitely different from the made-for-TV miniseries that was the source of my adolescent adoration — for one, this novel was actually good — I think that ultimately, the reason it really resonated with me was, essentially, the same.
It was about mothers and daughters.
After a brief stint living in New York City, Andy, the protagonist — and daughter — of this novel, has returned home. Since her return, she’s been living above her mother’s garage in the quaint beach town of Belle Isle.
On the record, Andy returned to her hometown to help her mother as she fought against breast cancer. Off the record, things were going pretty shitty in New York, so the call to return home — but of course not the reason for the call — was a blessing.
Though she’s discontented by her failure to launch — or, at least, her failure to launch high enough to fully escape her mother's gravitational pull — Andy’s resigned to it. She’s taken a job answering 911 calls and is spending her days doing… basically… nothing.
And this might have been how Andy spent the rest of her life — getting by but never really living — were it not for a traumatic event that effectively catapulted her into action.
When what was supposed to be a simple trip to a local diner turns into a violent fight for their lives, Andy’s mother, Laura, transforms from the meek and mild speech therapist Andy has always known into an effective and ruthlessly assassin, countering the attack and saving both her life and the life of her daughter.
Making matters even more complicated, immediately following the attack, Laura insists that Andy leave.
Telling Andy that she just wants to be alone — that she raised her and now that Andy’s a grown-ass woman her job is done — Laura demands that Andy vacate the premises that very night.
Confusion prevailing, Andy feels like she has no choice but to find for herself the answers her mother won’t give her.
Though Andy doesn’t know much, but she knows there must be more to this story than Laura is saying.
And she’s determined to find out what her mother is hiding.
One definitive strength of this novel was the way in which it grabbed you from page one.
When I started this book, I was, coincidentally enough, snuggled up in my childhood bed, visiting my own single mother — who I have no doubt wouldn’t have been able to take on an attacker as handily as Laura.
#NoOffenseMom #IGetMyLackOfCoordinationFromYou #IfTheZombieApocolypseHappensWeAreDoneFor
A bit tired, and hoping a read would help me lull off to sleep, I expected to get through maybe one chapter.
Four hours later, I was bleary-eyed, yet finished.
With her expertly written prose and her exceptionally well paced plot, Slaughter produced a work that is, truly, unputdownable.
And, aside from the fact that it made for a sleepy-ass-Wednesday, I’m grateful for it.
Another strength of this novel were the twists — yes, plural...because there were many.
Probably because there is so much pressure to have a twist that readers don’t see coming, I’ve found that an ever increasingly number of authors are filling their plots with relatively amateurish twists that anyone who has read even a couple of thrillers will see coming a mile away.
That wasn’t the case here. There were twists, but almost without exception I didn’t see them coming — which is really saying something.
Additionally, the twists didn’t seem contrived — they felt authentic and appropriate within the larger context of the novel.
Though, by in large, I found this novel to be exceptionally effective, there were a few minor points of concern for me.
First… a personal pet peeve of mine — an issue that I call the Magic Mike flaw.
I know what you're thinking. "wait, oiled up male strippers were prominently featured in this book?"
Yeah, no. No there aren't, and that's not what I mean.
The Magic Mike flaw is when a character purportedly does something with regularity — or values something intensely — and you only see him or her doing that something — or even thinking about that something — once.
In the beginning of Magic Mike, it is established that the newest dancer is a roofer.
We know this because we see him roofing.
I know I'm alone in this concern, but it annoyed me to no end that FOR THE WHOLE FUCKING REST OF THE MOVIE that asshole never roofed again.
In this book, it is mentioned that Andy has a passion for art. In fact, art is presented as something that's so important to her — a pastime so sacred —that she can hardly bring herself to sketch a picture of a man she suspects means her harm. Now, for something that is apparently so important to her — that she misses so much — I just didn't feel like sufficient attention was given to it.
Ultimately, I think an opportunity was missed to draw a parallel between Andy's art and the artistic pastime that so significantly impacted her mother's youth.
The other issue I had: I wanted more Gordon.
We are introduced, briefly, to Andy’s ex-stepfather, Gordon. And though my time with Gordon was short, the impact he left on me was significant. The degree to which he seemed to care about Andy — and even to care about her mother, the woman who had elected to end their marriage — was so endearing.
Usually, when I read or watch a thriller, I spend a lot of time hoping they don’t kill a family pet. Ever since they unceremoniously killed Vanessa Williams’ cat in Eraser, I’ve had this mild to moderate obsession with keeping an impotent watch over the pets in thrillers.
“Don’t kill the cat,” I say, aloud, to myself — like a crazy person — , “just don’t kill the cat.”
Well, in this novel, I kept hoping they didn’t kill the Gordon.
I was absolutely terrified that, somewhere in act three, Gordon would turn up, disemboweled and long-dead.
Not gonna lie, my shoulders at still a bit sore from the tension of it all!
Though worth mentioning, however, neither of these two concerns significantly hindered my ability to enjoy this tightly wound and beautifully paced thriller.
With its decidedly original plot and seamlessly smooth use of flashbacks, it is a thriller that will capture hearts — especially the hearts of lone daughters raised by single mothers.
I give it an ebullient 4 out of 5 cocktails.
I, admittedly, fall in love with literally characters… like, a lot… Usually, it’s the main character. But, sometimes — as in this novel — a minor character becomes the unwitting object of my affection. Which literary character currently holds your heart? Tell me about it in the comments, below.