Desert Isle Keeper
Only Ever Her
Only Ever Her is the latest novel from author Marybeth Mayhew Whalen, and although it’s the first of hers I’ve read, it absolutely will not be the last. It’s a quiet story, the sort that sneaks up on you with its surprisingly deep insights and remarkably imperfect characters.
Practically everyone in town knows Annie Taft. Her mother was murdered twenty-three years earlier, and it was the surprisingly clear testimony of then three-year-old Annie that finally brought the killer to justice. Now, Annie is all grown up and about to be married, and the whole town is set to wish her well. After all, no one is more deserving of a fresh start than Annie.
Then just four days before the big day, Annie goes missing, throwing the town into complete and utter turmoil. The police are quickly called, and friends and acquaintances rally round Annie’s aunt Faye and her cousin Clary, the only family Annie has. No one knows what to think. Where has Annie gone, and what could possibly cause her to disappear right before her wedding?
As days pass with no trace of Annie, those closest to her slowly begin to unravel. Faye and Clary try to remain hopeful, but it’s hard when constant searching turns up absolutely nothing. Faye wonders if Annie’s disappearance is somehow linked to the death of her mother, especially since the man accused of the crime has recently been released from prison. Could he have abducted Annie as a way of getting back at her for implicating him in the long ago murder?
It soon becomes clear to the reader that practically no one in town is who they seem to be. Everyone appears to have something to hide, making it difficult to know who to trust. Even the people who claim to have little personal connection to Annie are called into question. We see the story from several different points of view, making it even trickier to determine what is true and what is a carefully crafted falsehood, since each of our various narrators has a different take on who Annie Taft actually is and what has befallen her.
This is not a fast-paced thriller. Instead, the author builds the tension slowly and carefully, allowing the reader to get tiny glimpses behind the façades of those who love Annie. The story is propelled forward by the inner turmoil of the characters rather than by tons of unexpected twists. Even so, I found myself unable to put the book down.
Marybeth Mayhew Whalen definitely knows how to create flawed characters, the kind that will linger in your heart and mind long after you’ve finished the book. I loved her ability to give everyone, even those who appear the most loathsome, a convincing and relatable backstory. No one is either all good or all bad, and part of this novel’s magic lies in the tangled webs of deceit Annie, her friends, and her family have woven over the years.
Some readers might find the story’s ending to be a bit on the anticlimactic side, but I thought it was a perfect fit. It’s nothing flashy. You won’t gasp aloud when you finally learn the truth, but if you’re at all like me, you’ll come away with a feeling of utter rightness. The author didn’t set out to shock her readers. Instead, she wove a complex story that could be about anyone you know in real life, and that’s a big part of why Only Ever Her is among my favorite books of 2019.