Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault = A Book Review

In Search of the Rose Notes
by Emily Arsenault
384 pages

At age 11 Nora and Charlotte are best friends living on the same street in small town Waverly.  16 year old Rose is their babysitter who supervises and occasionally joins their various activities--watching scary movies, contemplating the paranormal as depicted in the series of Time-Life books handed down to Charlotte by her older brother sometime performing experiments suggested by the information like recording their dreams, testing for psychic talent with the famous black and white cards and planning a trip around the world for the summer after high school that would hit each of the locations that most intrigued them--Stonehenge, Easter Island, Bermuda Triangle, Roswell, Mayan and Egyptian Pyramids...

Then one afternoon Rose walked Nora home after Charlotte's Dad arrived home and headed on up the hill towards her own house.  She was never seen again. At least not by anyone willing to say so.

Nora and Charlotte took it upon themselves to investigate her disappearance using techniques gleaned from the set of black Time-Life books.  But without Rose's buffer their friendship was strained to the breaking point by the frustrations and disappointments of their search and the friction of Charlotte's spoiled rich girl bossiness with Nora's withdrawn quirky passive aggressiveness.  By the time they were in high school themselves they move in different crowds and rarely spoke to each other.

Sixteen years later Charlotte is teaching English at the Waverly high school and Nora is teaching ceramics at a community college several hour's drive away.  When news of the recovery of a set of bones that might be Rose's breaks Charlotte tracks Nora down and asks her to come stay with her in her family home (where she is now caring for her Mother stricken with MS) while they await the definitive report on the identity of the skeleton.

While there the conversations between the two women, the walks in the old neighborhood, the meeting of other friends from that time and their siblings and parents serve to dredge up long submerged memories and suddenly the seemingly innocuous conversations and encounters between adults and between Rose and her peers and Rose and the girls witnessed by the preteen Nora become indicators of sinister secrets crawling under the thin suburban veneer.

The story is narrated in dream like prose alternately by the adult Nora and her 11 year old self.  As the scenes flip back and forth between 1990 and 2006 the pieces of the puzzle slowly accumulate finally revealing a precise picture of what happened to Rose and why.

This was an enthralling story, layered and complex.  A mystery maybe but much more than a who-done-it.  The mysteries of self, friendship, and memory are primary over the mystery of what happened to a high school girl sixteen years ago.  It is something of a coming of age story interrupted for in the process of putting the pieces of Rose's story together Nora finally gathers the fragments of her own story into a cohesive shape that enables her to stop fearing the shadows of the past and reach toward the future with hope and trust.

Disclosure: the copy I read was a library book

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