Megan Miranda examines the effect of media sensationalism in the aftermath of a tragic event in her latest book, The Girl From Widow Hills. Everyone may think that they know the true story, but in reality, the truth is more twisted than anyone could ever believe.
Arden Maynor is the girl from Widow Hills. When she was six years old, Arden was swept away by a rainstorm while she was sleepwalking in the middle of the night. She went missing for days. While her story may have begun locally, it quickly gained traction and became national news. People from all over flocked to Widow Hills to help search for Arden. Prayer vigils and search parties were set up as rescuers combed the area searching for any sign of where she could be.
Against all odds, Arden was found days later alive and clinging to a storm drain. After her rescue, she became a living miracle. Her mother wrote a book. Fame swallowed what little sense of normalcy Arden had left. People sent letters, both positive and negative, as they all demanded that Arden make something important out of her life since she had survived. They wanted recompense for all the time and money that they poured into the search for her and for her recovery after she was found. On the anniversary every year, the publicity worsened. It all became too much.
Arden disappeared. She changed her name and tried to make a new life for herself. Now living hundreds of miles away from Widow Hills, Arden goes by Olivia. She has has stayed out of the media’s attention for years and started a new life. As the twentieth anniversary of her rescue creeps ever closer, Olivia is sure that the media will track her down and force her to live out the horrors of that time and the subsequent messiness after her rescue. Becoming increasingly uneasy, Olivia believes she is being watched. She has started sleepwalking again, sometimes waking up outside her house. One night, Olivia wakes up in her yard with the corpse of a man she knows from her past laying at her feet. What has she done? Why is he there? Olivia soon realizes the tranquility she has had for the last few years is going to disappear and havoc will rush back into her life. She is once again going to become the center of the story and there is nothing she can do to stop it.
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Libby Miller finds out (on the same day) that her husband is not at all who she thought he was, and their marriage was not what she thought it was. And that she has terminal illness. The internal monologues make you wonder how you, too, would cope with a day like that. For me, the first half of the book was most interesting, as Libby struggles to cope with seismic shifts in every aspect of her life – her job, her home, her health, and her family. She begins to realize that nothing at all in her life will ever be the same. This Camille Pagan novel is written in the first-person, so we are privy to her wildly swinging emotions. Her reaction to her husband’s news is both horrifying and funny.
Life and Other Near-Death Experiences is an odd amalgam of standard fiction and chick-lit. Some of the latter’s conventions are apparent – the tone is self-effacing and self-mocking, the main character is young (ish) and attractive, and good at her professional job – though she is a PA to a horrible boss. There is a spirit of re-invention, and, inevitably, a romance with a man who is a soul-mate, rather than someone she has stayed with, out of habit.
However, the reader (or this reader, anyway) had certain expectations about the illness that were not met, so it didn’t follow a typical airport fiction trajectory.(No spoilers here). The tone often veers into pretty dark territory – the illness and death of Libby’s mother is a driving factor in how Libby deals with her diagnosis. The result is that the reader is thrown off balance, and isn’t quite sure where the story is going. It’s a novel with a high-concept plot that delves deeper than expected.
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island – from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J. s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J. s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.
As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love. (description from publisher)
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is also available for check out as a free ebook through the RiverShare Digital Library.