Title: Good as Gone
Author: Amy Gentry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Price: Rs 350-/
“This is why people need God—because people are awful, even the good ones…”
— Good as Gone
And the fact that all the characters in ‘Good as Gone’ are flawed and ‘human’ is exactly why the book is so good. Debutant writer Amy Gentry’s suspense novel is about a teenage girl, who is kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, her return and how the family deals with it.
The plot line involves a “thirteen-year-old Julie being kidnapped at knifepoint and the only witness to the brazen act being her younger sister. Her family is devastated and deals with it in their individual ways. And then after almost a decade Julie is back. But despite being ecstatic, Anna, Julie’s mother, has doubts. When she is contacted by a private investigator, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter”.
The book is fast paced, but that not it’s selling point, well not the only selling point. While reading it, I was drawn in by the author’s ability to share in a sensitive manner the darker truths of a woman who has been sexually exploited in various forms through the years. It is also the way she depicts the mother-daughter relationship. Anna’s predicament of wanting to love Julie, but having doubts about her identity is well drawn out. Is it paranoia or is there something that needs investigating? It may be that Gentry’s experience of having worked with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse helped her in her writing.
Gentry draws a lot from her personal experience as she has based the book in her hometown of Houston. Gentry, a book, film and culture critic, is also a feminist activist and that influences her writing as well. An example: God too, had sacrificed his Son, Jesus. Always sons, never daughters. Were daughters too important? Or was it the opposite?
Religion and academia also play a big part in the plot as does the fight between the two. The scepticism of Anna, a professor of English at a local college towards religion in general and a particular church mentioned in ‘Good as Gone’ is presented crisply. Gentry doesn’t externalise the fight between organised religion and academia, but instead examines how our personal beliefs shape us and the world around us.
The idea for the book is said to have been inspired by the real-life incident of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. Smart was abducted at the age of fourteen from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002. She was rescued by police officers nine months later in 2003, in Sandy, Utah, about 18 miles from her home. Gentry wanted to explore what a girl/woman would do if she had to endure a similar ordeal for a longer duration before returning home.
But given all its strengths, there are a few flaws as well. The author doesn’t flesh out the character of Anna’s husband and Julie’s father, Tom, as cleanly as the rest. The other family member’s character also seems like a prop. Also for a psychological thriller that maintains its pace so well throughout the novel, the ending feels pretty uninspiring. Almost too pat. It’s doesn’t have the twists that the story had promised.
But all said, it is a worthy first attempt by the debutant writer and deserves a read. Interestingly, since the release and success of ‘Gone Girl’, there seems to an entire canon of books which have ‘girl’ or ‘gone’ in the title like Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on the Train’ and Jessica Knoll’s ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’. In as much as it is worth, this book’s title may be in the same canon, but it stands on its own feet. In my opinion, the original title of ‘Other People’s Daughters’ would have worked even better.