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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Nightmare Without End: Abduction & the Long Road Back



Danger takes many forms.
Most of us--once we’ve become rather uncomfortably aware of our own mortality--make an effort to take at least a few precautions to ward ourselves from some of the dangers we face. 
At a bare minimum, we look both ways before crossing the street. We inoculate ourselves against deadly diseases. We bolt our doors and lock our windows to all the scary things (and bad people) that go bump in the night. We fasten our seat belts before setting out on the roadways in our little hunks of metal (although statistics show that a lot more of us could stand to be doing that). Taking such measures is empowering; we’re proactively doing something to safeguard ourselves.
So many other things, of course, are completely outside the realm of our control. We’re unable to prevent cancers or illnesses that we’re genetically predisposed to getting. We’re at the whims of Mother Nature when it comes to floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and such. We can’t predict if a random stranger in a crowd will suddenly “go postal”... or if we’ll be in the line of fire should he or she take aim. We’re aware these sorts of perils exist, too, but we know there’s nothing we can really do about them. 
And then, there are those dangers which lurk in the shadows... the ones that have never even crossed our minds, leaving us completely unprepared to face them, should they arise. It is this, the truly unknown, that holds the most terrifying dangers of all, and author Chevy Stevens paints a shattering portrait of one woman‘s struggles with just such an unspeakable, unknown horror in her phenomenal debut, Still Missing.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Annie O’Sullivan thinks she’s a careful person. As a single 32-year-old living on her own on Vancouver Island, she practices all the normal precautions regarding her health and personal safety, plus a few others, for good measure. She tries to eat right and exercise. She’s a cautious driver. She has a little network of friends and family who know her whereabouts and schedule. Her dog is both beloved companion and bodyguard.
In all her wildest dreams, Annie never guessed that the worst danger she’d ever encounter would occur while she was working--she’s a realtor, for crying out loud!--yet that’s exactly what happens, when she’s abducted in the middle of hosting an open house on an otherwise perfectly-ordinary autumn afternoon. One minute, the charming man who arrives just as she’s about to lock up the house she’d been showing is earnestly discussing windows and square footage with her... and the next, he’s bundling her into his van at gunpoint, then shooting her full of drugs to knock her out. This seemingly-innocuous day suddenly becomes a pivotal moment, a point from which Annie’s life will be changed forevermore.
When the drugs wear off and Annie comes to, she indeed finds herself part of an incomprehensible nightmare. She and her captor seem to be in a remote cabin somewhere in the mountains. (Where it is, she doesn’t know, and he’s not telling.) He proceeds to lay out a series of ground rules for her. They will be staying there, just the two of them. There’s to be no contact with the outside world, period. (No phone, television, internet, radio, or newspaper.) Adherence to a strict set of rules governing her behavior is mandatory. (All behavior. Daily bathroom breaks are penciled in on the schedule, just like dishes and laundry and reading time, with no exceptions permitted.) Annie will be locked inside the cabin all day, every day. 
All of this, he tells her, is for her own good. The outside world is evil, and she has been corrupted by its influence, but he aims to rectify that via his master plan. He intends for them to be a “family”--in every sense of the word--and he quickly sets about ensuring that will happen.  
As far as Annie is concerned, it will be the absolute worst year of her life.
************
In a very unusual--not to mention, incredibly-powerful--twist, we learn about Annie’s ordeal solely through her four-months-after-the-fact narration of events to her psychiatrist. Rather than a linear recounting, though, the tale emerges in bits and pieces, as Annie struggles to tell what details she can handle describing--and in whatever order she can stand to impart them--during her weekly sessions. 
Gradually, though, the full story is told in its horrifying entirety--everything her captor made her do, how he made her suffer, and how she learned to cope. When we finally get a clear sense of what transpired, it is awful beyond belief.
Unfortunately, the nightmare doesn’t come to a convenient stop with the end of her captivity; that was merely the beginning of it. And, as Annie dwells more and more on the present in her counseling sessions, we realize just how profound an impact that year has had on her, the toll it has taken on all aspects of her life. She has begrudgingly chosen to bare her soul only because she simply can't cope. Her story may be old news in the media, but she continues to relive the whole dreadful experience during every one of her waking--plus most of her sleeping--hours.
Annie wants more than anything to have a “normal” life again... to enjoy at least a semblance of safety and to somehow cobble the pieces of her shattered life back together, instead of this awful existence of cowering in fear and rehashing painful memories over and over again. 
What scares her to death most of all, though, is the certainty that she is still in grave danger... and about that, she is absolutely right.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*
I found Still Missing to be a profoundly-affecting book, shocking and horrifying in its subject matter and stunningly brilliant in its execution. It's a first-rate thriller, with twists you won’t see coming, as well as some that you might guess at-- all the while desperately hoping that you’re mistaken. It’s also a psychological masterpiece, with its grim, visceral depiction of abject terror and tormented souls; you're unlikely to forget any of these characters any time soon. 

Still Missing made me, by turns, breathless and furious and heartbroken--at the system, at people, at our world in general. In the end, though, what it left me with above all else was a sense of hope... that within each of us lies a grim determination and the will to live, to conquer, and to triumph--if only we can somehow manage to find that will and then hang onto it for dear life.

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4 out of 5 mousies!!


9 comments:

  1. Oh my word. Just reading this review made me nauseous. (Though I grant you, the post-nasal drip might have a tad to do with that, too.) How you got through a book about this, I just don't know. Lily Bard having a flashback of one chapter was bad enough.

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  2. This is so much more, though, CN... more genuine, more raw, more brutal. The way in which the story is told--not as the usual first-person narrative but like an actual transcription of counseling sessions--gives it a real edge, and Annie's words--describing her self-awareness, her pain, her fear and frustration--have the power to cut like a knife. It's intense, and unlike anything I've read before.

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  3. Okay, so, I read it. I read it in under 24 hours, which of course says something. I thought the way she structured the story was quite novel, in that things didn't happen when I expected them to, but usually much earlier/later. (In a good way, I mean.)

    I did find the picture of the psychological aspect of her ordeal and its aftermath to be well-rounded and articulate, and emotionally compelling.

    But I couldn't shake the feeling that quite a lot of it was somewhat exploitative (first half) and manipulative (final third). There were some real nuances painted in throughout, but especially toward the end I felt some of the language and pacing and plot elements combined to be far too blunt. There were many things that were dealt with so deftly that when certain aspects (sorry I'm being so vague; I don't want to include spoilers) were dealt with in almost of of a surprise!sledgehammer way it really bothered me, either by making me feel like the author was pulling a bit of a cheap trick, or by taking me out of the story. The fact that several of the characters ended up being pretty broad archetypes was what bothered me most, I think, more than anything specific that happened in the story, in the end.

    Wow, how long was that last sentence I just wrote there?

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  4. I can understand- and agree to a certain extent with- the issues you bring up, CN. There are, however, a couple of things which allow the work in its entirety to remain positive for me; namely, that I'm rarely completely surprised by anything that happens (in other words, I suspected the denouement, as it were--you know what I mean, here--fairly early in the story, so it didn't come across as a cheap trick to me), and that I have little trouble believing characters really are that naive (dumb, misguided, or whatever), as to not know what I, as the reader, can see coming all too clearly. (The latter also goes to the "broad archetypes" you mention; I agree that a couple characters are rather stereotypical... but I've met enough people who honestly do embody all the traits of his/her respective stereotype, to feel that including such characters in the story isn't a fault of the author... it's merely a portrayal of one reality, however unsavory.)

    As for the pacing in the latter part of the book (while remaining un-spoilery, here), that worked for me. It was akin to a snowball rolling downhill--picking up both mass and speed on its way to the final destination, or to a carefully-arranged grouping of dominoes, if you prefer. Once she started learning things (whether she liked what she was finding out or not), everything started making a lot more sense, in a hurry.

    And about you, reading the whole thing in less than 24 hours?!? In December?!? (o_O) Holy cow, how I envy you the time, focus, and wherewithal!!

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  5. I need to reread my comment, because I enjoyed the pacing, including that in the latter part of the book. The surprising pacing was one of the book's strongest points, I thought. That, and what seemed to be the incredibly realistic portrayal of the psychological aftermath and recovery of what Annie went through. I also thought the conceit of having it as session notes was great. To know that Annie is relaying events that have already happened to her, not in the traditional past-tense sense, but that have already happened to the character at this moment in the story, and to still have the suspense and surprise? I think that speaks very well for the author.

    I think what may have bothered me more than anything was that I did enjoy this book, and part of me feels guilty for getting entertainment value out of a story in which these things happen. Sort of like the way I'd feel if I enjoyed watching torture porn films, you know? I do not enjoy watching torture porn films (like the Hostel films, e.g.), and I do not mean to suggest that this book was torture porn. On the contrary, the physical things that happened to Annie weren't described in near as much detail as I've seen comparable things described by, say, Dean Koontz. (Speaking of which - in high school we actually read one of his books in class. I forget the name, but this girl is sleeping over at her friend's house, and some guy breaks in, kills the whole family and rapes her friend. The heroine wants to figure out who he is, so she basically gets herself kidnapped by him. I don't think she herself gets raped, but that book? That was torture/rape porn. Ugh. I will never read anything by him again, and I couldn't believe they had us read it in school.) Anyway, I think that's my biggest problem with it. Seeing how I've never been through anything infinitesimally similar to what Annie goes through, I wasn't sure where to draw the line, so to speak, in the telling of the physical parts of what she went through.

    FWIW, I went through the same debate with myself about She's Come Undone, which is undoubtedly one of the more artistically accomplished books to come out of the late '90's, early '00's.

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  6. Uh, speaking of rereading comments, I just reread my most recent one, and I noticed the phrase "gets herself raped." Ummm. That came out REALLY, REALLY WRONG. FFS. I am horrible. You know that wording is completely not what I meant, but still, I am horrible.

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  7. Did either of you happen to read "Room" yet...?

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  8. No! I just checked it out on Amazon, though, and have to say... that looks incredibly disturbing. (The claustrophobic premise aside, I simply can't imagine never seeing/going outdoors. That thought just does me in...)
    Have you read it, waltzinexile?

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  9. Yes, since I got the Kindle edition of Still Missing, it's been recommended to me when I log into Amazon.

    DO. NOT. WANT.

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