Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: What Has Become Of You by Jan Elizabeth Watson

I just read an unusual new book that comes out about a week from now, on May1st. The second book by Jan Elizabeth Watson, "What Has Become Of You" is considered a psychological thriller although I'd add the word "literary" in the description somewhere. Watson is certainly a spectacular writer, painting pictures in the reader's mind with tight prose that are wonderfully easy to digest.

Watson has created a character in her newest book who is self-effacing, introverted and unassertive. Miss Vera Lundy is a substitute english teacher in a wealthy all girls school. The character Vera is intellectual but has very little good judgement. We learn a little about her awkward younger years in high school where a girl Vera knew was murdered by a serial killer. This was a defining moment in Vera's life and has become the subject of the book she intends to write but when she starts her new job at the girls school, Vera finds herself disturbed by the recent murder of a student, reminding her of her past. I found myself pitying Vera as the Jan Elizabeth Watson fleshed out her character. 

On her first day teaching, Vera meets Jansen Willard, a fifteen year old scholarship student, who reminds Vera of herself, introverted, awkward and smart with strong writing skills. The book is mainly about an entwining of the relationship between these two characters and the recent murder mystery that occurred just before Vera arrived as a substitute teacher.

I have a rule about writing book reviews, NO SPOILERS! I abhors learning about a book and getting just too much information about the story. I want the reviewer to give her opinion on whether it was good or bad without ruining the read for me. It is for this reason that I stop here explaining anything else about the book and only try to give my opinion about how much I enjoyed it. I was so on the fence about what rating I'd give this book. The quandary is that the writing is extremely good and I therefore wanted to rate it higher than a three of five. Here's the problem, some of the behaviors and choices the writer makes for Vera are so annoyingly ridiculous for the education level Watson assigns the character (Vera) that I had trouble finishing the book. It's as though Watson had no real understanding about what she was writing about. Let me give you an analogy.

We would all agree that Stephen King is the penultimate writer of spooky horror. His prose make you keep the lights on at night. How would you feel, as a reader, if in the middle of a gripping story King added an alarmingly ridiculous scene reminiscent of those stupid spoofy horror films where the young cheerleader goes into the haunted house alone, unarmed at three in the morning, knowing there's a serial killer stalking her? It's so out of character for the writer. King writes so well and you don't expect inconsistencies like this.

The character that Watson creates in Vera is smart, a woman who reads true crime. Some of her behaviors are just inconsistent with that. It goes beyond just bad judgement on Vera's part. I can't imagine anyone, even a dim bulb, making such behavioral choices. This makes me question whether the writer has ever experienced being a victim at all.

Although my review is not flattering, I have real hope and energy about this writer. I think she could be one of the best. I will certainly read another of her books because although this one wasn't a knock out of the park, I am certain the writer has it in her to write a true home run.


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