Contemporary Fiction / Review Requests and ARCs

Review of Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster

I received a copy of Beneath the Shadows from NetGalley and it publishes June 5.  I was intrigued by the concept: a woman and her husband move to a small Yorkshire town and the husband disappears without a trace.  Why is that intriguing?  I guess because a disappearance isn’t like losing a loved one to an accident or murder.  Disappearance means maybe something horrible happened to him, or maybe just took off.  Maybe he’s somewhere out there with amnesia and has no idea who you are.  For the abandoned spouse, it means not knowing whether to grieve, search, or move on.  There was a cool movie some years ago with Charlotte Rampling (called Under the Sand) where she falls asleep on the beach while her husband goes for a swim, and he just never comes out of the water.  She has to move on (or tries to) when she has no idea what happened to him.  The psychology is terrifying but fascinating.  Was there something she should have done?  Did he die?  Leave her for another woman?  Most likely she’ll never know.

So I’ll give Sara Foster points for concept.  She also gets points for setting, a small, remote town on the moors of Yorkshire.  Unfortunately, this book didn’t satisfy.

In Beneath the Shadows, Grace and Adam move to Yorkshire to live in his deceased grandparents’ house.  It’s an opportunity to live rent free for a while and raise their new baby away from the urban craziness of London.  Grace is skeptical but willing to try.  Sadly, a week after their move Adam goes out one day and never comes home.  Grace finds their baby in her stroller, left by someone at the front door of their cottage.

After the police find nothing, Grace leaves town but returns a year later, determined to find some answers.

The first part of the book was an easy and fast-moving read.  Unfortunately, I realized about a third of the way in that the dialogue felt really stiff and the characters were mostly horrible.  Grace’s sister is a selfish bitch and her best friend James is a nightmare of jealousy — he has the emotional depth of a teenager.  They claim to care about Grace but are completely unsupportive.  The other characters seemed like stock characters from a cheesy Lifetime movie —  the sexy but mysterious handyman and the starchy gothic matriarch.

I could sort of enjoy the gothic creepiness of the book but even that was way overdone, from the ghostly ticking clock to the dark cellar with a door that slams shut on its own.

Everything about this book felt expected, including its resolution.

I liked that Grace has to wrestle with her faith in Adam’s love for her, against everyone else’s belief that he probably took off because of the stress.  But what drove me crazy about Grace is that despite all her love for her husband, she seems to have known nothing about him, and it bothered me that it takes her this long to ask some difficult questions.  After all, Adam clearly had some issues that she was never willing to deal with, like being abandoned by one father and finding out his stepfather had a wife and children in another town.  Or the fact that he’s moved with his wife and baby back to the town where his mother mysteriously became impregnated with him and had to run away – you don’t think asking a few questions about that might be relevant to your relationship?

Plus, this is a small, small town, so someone must have seen something, yet the police find absolutely no evidence.  Umm, did they dust the stroller for fingerprints?

At first, this book reminded me of one I read earlier, The Qualities of Wood, because of the move to a remote town and the idea of a wife putting her life on hold (temporarily) for her husband.  And then there’s the whole question of how much do you really know about your spouse.  But beyond that, no comparison.  Qualities of Wood had interesting characters, was well written and really got into the psychology of a marriage and family relationships.  Beneath the Shadows, ironically, leaves everything on the surface.

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