Add this to the list of “WTF was I thinking waiting so long to read it?” books. I’m pretty sure I received this book from a former supervisor two jobs ago now. I’ll have to shoot her an email to verify it, but for some reason I have that in my mind. Either way I’m glad I read it and still thinking why it took me so long.
Whoever gave this to me for some reason compared it to Gone Girl, so if you have plans to read that don’t read this review because I’m going to spoil a few big things in that book AND this one. So this is your warning, don’t read anything until the recommendation if you don’t wan spoilers. I’ll keep the spoilers out of the Recommendation because I do think it was a great book and can see why the comparison is made, but I’ll rip the band-aid off and say this one is better 😀
This book takes place, funny enough, in a remote area of Minnesota in the lake of the woods. The main character has just experienced a harrowing political loss after the public finds out about a disturbing experience in his past. This is a fictional outcome of actual events in during the Vietnam war and immediately following. In that aspect it reminds me of Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once in that it also talks about a war-time atrocity with a fictional outcome. But in Iraq instead of Vietnam.
Where the comparison to Gone Girl happens is with the disappearance of the protagonists wife. You can definitely feel the difference in the almost 20 years between the release is the lack of a media circus in this novel and the complete circus in Gone Girl. Other differences are apparent as well including the lack of cellphones and the rural versus suburban setting.
This book takes the win for me because unlike Gone Girl the reader is left hanging. There’s no sick twist where the “missing person” is found to have staged the murder and there’s definitely not a sick ending where the two asshat characters end up with each other because really they deserve each other.
You’re left wondering with this book. Did he kill her? Did she run away? Did she get lost on the massive lake? When the protagonist leaves at the end of the novel heading into the lake what happens to him? Does he go to meet her? Was it all planned and perfectly executed?
The reason we are left with questions is that every few chapters there was a chapter called “Hypothesis.” Each one is different and leaves you asking the above questions because in one she’s murdered in the house, in another she’s drowned in the river, in another she bounces out of the boat she takes to escape and dies, and in yet another she flees and successfully heads to Canada.
I can’t do justice to the chapters in which O’Brien wrote about Vietnam and the protagonist’s experience. His writing was so convincing you feel the heat, the terror, and the chaos of the soldiers’ experience. It was gruesome, but realistic.
Recommendation: As unsatisfying as not the outcome of the book, I appreciated it more than Gone Girl‘s outcome. I have a feeling this will be one of those books that stays with me for the next few months/years because I will continue to think about the ending and what actually happened. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Opening Line: “In September, after the primary, they rented an old yellow cottage in the timber at the edge of Lake in the Woods.”
Closing Line: “Could the truth be so simple? So terrible?” (Whited out to avoid spoilers. Highlight to read.)