Published by BERKLEY on January 14, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Raymond Fleischmann’s debut novel How Quickly She Disappears is a powerful story about loneliness, grief, and obsession. Primarily set in a small town in Alaska in 1941, the story follows Elisabeth Pfautz, a woman who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her twin sister, Jacqueline. Jacqueline went missing without a trace twenty years earlier and the lack of closure is something that has troubled Elisabeth for years.
Elisabeth’s life really gets turned on its end when a mysterious man named Alfred Seidel is imprisoned for murder and refuses to talk to anyone except for Elisabeth. When she goes to see him in prison, he tells her he knows where her missing sister is and that she’s alive and well. He will gladly tell her everything she wants to know about Jacqueline… in due time and in exchange for a few favors. As suspicious and outrageous as this sounds, Elisabeth is desperate for any news about her sister and so she plays along. And play she does, as the two of them begin a mental game of cat and mouse.
Will Elisabeth get the answers she so desperately wants? And if so, at what cost? What is Alfred’s endgame?
* * * * *
I was drawn into this story immediately, both by the author’s vivid descriptions of the remote Alaskan landscape and by Elisabeth’s emotional plight. I felt sympathy for Elisabeth’s situation right away. The loss of her sister is of course devastating, but I also felt for her because she was so alone. It’s hard enough to move away from everyone and everything you’ve ever known but imagine doing so and then not being welcomed to your new home with open arms. The story is set during WWII and so, being of German descent, Elisabeth and her husband, John, were unfortunately given the side eye more than once by those around them. Couple that with the fact that it becomes apparent early on that John isn’t the most attentive husband in the world, and it’s easy to see why Elisabeth feels so alone.
In addition to creating a sympathetic protagonist, the author also uses one of my favorite tools for historical fiction, the dual timeline presented in alternating chapters. Fleischmann lets the story unfold for us from Elisabeth’s perspective, with one timeline in the present following her cat and mouse game with the suspicious and mysterious Alfred, while the other timeline follows her at age eleven and shows us the lead up to Jacqueline’s disappearance and the immediate aftermath. I really enjoyed following the twists and turns of each timeline and watching the pieces of the story fall into place.
Elisabeth’s growing obsession with Alfred’s game both thrilled and frustrated me. It starts her on a downward spiral, basically taking over her life and causing her to make some horribly bad and downright reckless decisions. Elisabeth’s obsession had me quickly turning the pages to find out what was next in Alfred’s manipulative little game, but at the same time, there were moments when I just couldn’t believe she was actually willing to do some of the things he was demanding of her. When she starts neglecting her own child and putting others at risk, I honestly started to dislike her a little.
Along with my growing frustration with Elisabeth as the story progressed, there were also some moments at the prison where I really had to suspend disbelief to get through. I keep telling myself it’s the 40’s and maybe prisons weren’t as strict back then about prisoners and visitors and the contact they’re allowed to have, but it still had me shaking my head a bit.
My issues with the book were quite minor though and overall I still found How Quickly She Disappears to be a riveting read. It’s atmospheric, suspenseful, and it packs an emotional punch as well. I was really impressed with this debut from Raymond Fleischmann and look forward to many more novels from him.
The Dry meets Silence of the Lambs in this intoxicating tale of literary suspense set in the relentless Alaskan landscape about madness and obsession, loneliness and grief, and the ferocious bonds of family …
It’s 1941 in small-town Alaska and Elisabeth Pfautz is alone. She’s living far from home, struggling through an unhappy marriage, and she spends her days tutoring her precocious young daughter. Elisabeth’s twin sister disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier, and Elisabeth’s life has never recovered. Cryptic visions of her sister haunt her dreams, and Elisabeth’s crushing loneliness grows more intense by the day. But through it all, she clings to one belief: That her sister is still alive, and that they’ll be reunited one day.
And that day may be coming soon. Elisabeth’s world is upended when Alfred Seidel — an enigmatic German bush pilot — arrives in town and murders a local man in cold blood. Sitting in his cell in the wake of his crime, Alfred refuses to speak to anyone except for Elisabeth. He has something to tell her: He knows exactly what happened to her long-missing sister, but he’ll reveal this truth only if Elisabeth fulfills three requests.
Increasingly isolated from her neighbors and imprisoned by the bitter cold and her own obsession, Elisabeth lets herself slip deeper into Alfred’s web. A tenuous friendship forms between them, even as Elisabeth struggles to understand Alfred’s game and what he’s after.
But if it means she’ll get answers, she’s willing to play by his rules. She’s ready to sacrifice whatever it takes to be reunited with her sister, even if it means putting herself — and her family — in mortal danger.