If She Only Knew
This is a difficult book to review, primarily because most of the problems occur in the last quarter of the book, and thus are difficult to explain without revealing too much. In If She Only Knew Ms. Jackson takes what could be a fairly trite plot and turns it into a very interesting puzzle. The problems arise when she adds in one too many twists and veers abruptly in the characterization in the latter parts of the book.
The first scene of the book has a man causing a terrible accident on a mountain road. Two women in a car are driven over the edge, and only one of them survives the crash. This survivor spends the first part of the book in a coma, but able to hear the people who are supposed to be her family. She doesn’t remember any of them but begins to piece relationships together while she fades in and out. She is Marla Cahill, wife of Alex, daughter-in-law to Eugenia, mother to teenager Cissy and baby James and sister-in-law to Nick. Before she even wakes Marla knows that all is not right in the household.
Waking doesn’t solve any of Marla’s problems. For one thing she’s not even sure she is Marla. Nothing about Marla’s life feels right and Alex seems to be going out of his way to make sure she doesn’t remember. To complicate matters, Nick tells Marla that the two of them were involved before she married Alex. That’s why he has kept his distance and has only now returned to the fold to help with the family business. If you’re thinking this is a lot to take in, you’re right. But what works so well is the way in which the author draws the reader in slowly. We’re not hit over the head with the possibilities. They’re suggested in small scenes that eventually lead the reader to bigger realizations. If that sound a bit vague, it’s supposed to. Revealing the specifics would ruin the complexities of the story.
Which brings me to the reason I came close to wanting slam this book into a wall. Because Ms. Jackson did such a good job at laying the groundwork, I was doubly disappointed in the rushed, unbelievable ending. In the last forty or so pages it comes out that a major clue was a red herring. That’s fine, suspense and mysteries need to have those false leads. But in this case, once you know that the clue is a false one, you realize that there’s no logical reason for that piece to have been there other then as a red herring. It doesn’t fit. Neither do a lot of other things that are thrown in at the last minute. Because so many things are thrown at the reader in the space of a relatively small number of pages, the book ends up with a rushed, “have to finish this right now” feeling. There’s almost no closure between any of the characters, and even the love story is hurried in its conclusion.
What about that love story? Nick wants to avoid Marla because he can’t be involved with his brother’s wife. Marla is dismayed to feel more attraction to the man who is her brother-in-law then she does for her erstwhile husband. Both fight their feelings in a realistic fashion; both give in to their feelings in equally real ways. Not to beat a dead horse, but it flows wonderfully until those last fateful chapters where unbelievable changes in characterization mar it. These two people could not possibly get together, not in such an easy and painless manner. They would have some serious problems to work out, with each other and with the other people in the family. None of this occurs. The mystery is solved regarding Marla and voila, they’re going to live happily ever after.
If this book had one or two less twists, and a chapter more of closure, it would have received a strong B. It didn’t. These lacks left me hanging. If you’re a fan of amnesia plots, this is one you’ll probably enjoy. Just prepared to rewrite the ending in your head, as I did.
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