Stay With Me, by Alison Gaylin

Short Take:  A solid end to the Brenna Spector trilogy.

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If you haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy, you should probably do so before starting this one.

Previous reviews are here:

Book 1:  And She Was

Book 2:  Into The Dark

Brenna Spector is once again looking for a missing person in Stay With Me, the final book in the trilogy.  This time, instead of hunting for a client’s loved one, she is frantically trying to track down her own missing daughter, Maya.  Brenna’s flawless memory (hyperthymestic syndrome) both helps and hinders her, as the past keeps slamming into the present, and Maya’s chances dim with every passing moment.

As Brenna searches for Maya, she also finds answers to the biggest questions in her own life – the truth behind the disappearances of her father and older sister, Clea.  Along for the ride are her muscle-head computer-savant assistant, Trent, her ex-husband Jim and his devoted wife Faith, her boyfriend, Detective Nick Marasco, and her mother, Evelyn.

It’s going to be very hard to review this book without giving away any major spoilers, because the revelations are plentiful in this one.

The big final reveal is a little more telegraphed this time, but there are still enough other twists to keep it interesting.  We finally learn why Brenna’s father really vanished.  And although the clues were there, in both of the previous books, I never put it together.  (Side Note:  Can I just say how impressed I am with Ms. Gaylin’s continuity?  She seems to have known where she was going from the beginning, and so many of the minor details from the earlier books have all come together perfectly.  EXTREMELY well done!)

This is a short book that has a lot of pages.  I think that sense of “short book” is due to the many flashbacks – a small amount of forward momentum plot-wise is expanded to show what happened when Brenna saw/heard something similar on (random date) when (some other person) was wearing (items of clothing) and so on.  The ending felt entirely too rushed.  There was so much build-up, and then it all ended in just a few pages, and in a way that didn’t completely hang together for me.  The kidnapper suddenly does a complete one-eighty, with very little explanation, and then everything is just over.

Other than the strange, abrupt ending, there was a lot to like in Stay With Me.  I mentioned before the continuity that seems damn near flawless.  I don’t think authors get enough credit for pulling off a trick like that, as we tend to only notice the times that the details don’t match up.

There are some fascinating themes in this book.  One of the biggest is, “you can’t change who you are.”  That’s a line that’s repeated over and over, throughout all three of the Brenna Spector novels.  Eventually, no matter how much you want to keep a secret hidden, it will come out. Our own words and habits always reveal us.

Also, perfect memory doesn’t equal perfect vision.  Brenna may be able to recall exactly everything that everyone has ever said to her, but at the same time, she doesn’t see the people themselves clearly.  Instead, she tries to change the outward characteristics of the people around her, while ignoring their reality.  She complains about way Maya texts, but has no idea that Maya has a completely secret, destructive, other life.  Brenna can’t stand Trent’s habit of creating goofy nicknames for her, but she doesn’t see that he’s really putting away childish things when it matters.  She wants her mother to be someone else entirely, not realizing that Evelyn has carefully chosen the life she has, and for very good reasons.  Finally, she needs Jim to stay forever preserved in a little box in her memory, no longer a real person at all, despite how badly Maya needs her parents to be able to work together.

It’s an interesting idea – that even the most perfectly-recalled image of a person can have nothing to do with the actual person.  Is it better to live with incomplete and untrue memories that are happy, or to find the truth that may be quite a bit uglier?  Are we sometimes better off letting people go, even if we don’t want to, or hanging on to someone even when it’s hard?

In her need to avoid the discomfort that seeing her ex Jim brings, Brenna also throws away all the good things about him, and in her single-minded search for Clea, she has never faced the idea that the sister she remembers might not be anything like the person Clea really was.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable ending to the Brenna Spector trilogy.  There’s lots of food for thought, and some excellent literary tricks.  I just wish the ending had been as fleshed-out as the flashbacks.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FOUR HAPPY NEURONS

fourhappyneurons

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