#WhatImReadingNow: Good As Gone

Jane woke up and whispered, “Julie?” The room yawned around her. After two years of sleeping alone in her own bedroom in the new house, Jane no longer dreamed of the ceiling fan dropping onto the bed and chopping her up. The spiders, too, had vanished from the shadows; ten-year-olds don’t need to have the corners checked before bedtime. Only occasionally, when something woke her in the middle of the night, the silence around her ached for Julie’s soft breathing. In the old house, she used to hoist one foot over the top bunk railing and giggle until Julie said, Shhh, Janie, go back to sleep. Now, she shut her eyes tightly before they could drift toward the dark seams where the walls and ceiling met.

The next noise definitely came from Julie’s room. Jane pulled back the covers and slid her bare feet down to the carpet. In the old house, a braided rug slipped over the smooth wooden floor when she got out of bed. Now her feet barely made a sound on thick carpet as she padded to the door and peered down the dark hallway. A faint rectangle of lighter darkness hovered at the end—a closed door.

They rarely slept with doors closed; Janie’s room got too hot, Julie’s too cold. Mom grumbled about the air circulation in two-story houses, but Mom and Dad’s room downstairs on the first floor was always shut at night, because they were adults.

Now Julie was too, or wanted to be. Ever since her thirteenth birthday, she seemed to be practicing for adulthood all the time, brushing her hair slowly in front of the bathroom mirror as if rehearsing for some secret play, sitting at her desk to write in her diary instead of flopping on the bed stomach-first, like Jane.

And closing her bedroom door. At the end of the hall, the pale rectangle shuddered, a crack of darkness opening up around one side. Julie’s bedroom door receded inward, four large fingers hooked around its edge.

Before she had time to think, Jane ducked into her closet, crouched down, and pulled the door shut behind her.

The fingers—they were too high up on the door to belong to Julie, too large to belong to her mother. They didn’t belong to her father either, but she didn’t know how she knew they didn’t, and that was the most unsettling thing of all. A tiny, sickening click reminded her that the closet door never stayed closed for long. She threw her hands forward, but the door was already floating slowly open.

Jane squeezed her eyes shut as a soft tread started down the hallway. When she opened them a moment later, the closet door had come to rest three inches from the door

frame. The slice of hallway visible from her hiding place almost glowed against the closet’s deeper darkness; she could see every fiber in the beige carpet, every ripple in the wall paint, and, hanging on the wall, half of a framed studio portrait in which long-ago Jane sat on long-ago Julie’s lap, wearing a baby dress with a sailboat on it. The sailboat shook on its embroidered waves. Everything else was shaking too.

The steps continued toward Jane’s room. The noisy floorboard in the middle of the hall moaned. The owner of the hand was now halfway to her room. Could he hear the creak in her ears each time her thundering heart shook the little boat?

Jane resisted the urge to shrink back into her clothes on their rattling hangers. Just then, a skinny foot appeared against the carpet, a patch of pink polish clinging to the big toenail, and Jane let out her breath. It was only Julie. She’d crouched over her toes perfecting the pink for an hour before her birthday party, but by the middle of the summer, most of it had scraped off on the rough white bottom of the backyard pool, leaving only these little triangles around the edges. So Jane had been wrong about the fingers, seeing things again, like the spiders in the shadows.

Sure enough, here came Julie, moving into the frame with her ordinary Mickey Mouse nightshirt flapping around her ordinary knees, heading toward the staircase by Jane’s room, probably just going down for a midnight snack. Jane’s matching Donald Duck nightshirt was in a brown bag waiting to be taken to Goodwill; she’d already outgrown it. Her mom said she’d be taller than Julie someday. Jane hugged her pajama’d knees in relief.

But the fingers were back, this time perched on Julie’s shoulder, clutching at the fabric of her nightshirt, her long blond hair trapped between their knobby knuckles. Jane barely had time to notice Julie’s stiff, straight posture, like that of a wide-eyed puppet, before she saw the tall man following close behind her. Julie and the strange man moved together in slow motion, as if his long arm and hairy hand were a chain binding them together.

Wake up, wake up, wake up, Jane told herself, but nothing happened. Everything was frozen, including her, like in a dream; only Julie and the man kept moving. Slow, but faster than frozen; slow, but they were almost to her room.

Janie opened her mouth to scream. Then Julie saw her. Jane’s scream slid back down into her stomach as Julie stared straight into her closet hiding place. Jane stared back, begging Julie to tell her what to do next, readying herself to obey, to yell or cry or maybe even laugh if it was all a joke. Surely Julie wouldn’t leave her alone in this bad dream. If Julie would just tell her what to do, Jane promised silently, she would listen to her and never complain from now on.

Without moving her head, Julie lifted her eyebrows and glanced meaningfully toward the man behind her, then back to Jane, as if telling her to take a good look, but Jane didn’t want to; she kept her eyes trained on Julie instead. Girl and man turned on the landing without pausing at her door, and Jane saw why Julie was walking so stiffly: the man held the tip of a long, sharp knife to her back.

Jane felt a nasty sting like a bug bite between her own shoulder blades, and her eyes filled up with tears. They were poised at the top of the stairs when a loud tick sounded from the attic. Jane knew it was only the house settling, but the man stopped and looked over his shoulder nervously. In the split second before he looked back, Julie, as if freed from a spell, turned her head to Jane, raised her left index finger to her lips, and formed them into a silent O. Shhh.

Jane obeyed.

Julie started down the stairs, followed by the man with the knife.

And that, according to the only witness, is the story of how I lost my daughter—both my daughters, everything, everything—in a single night.

—Amy Gentry, Good as Gone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Some thoughts on this book:

  • I can’t tell you why I bought it in the first place (it might have been a quick review in Entertainment Weekly); I like a little mystery, but usually find psychological suspense to be unsettling. And this opening scene was just creepy enough and just scary enough that I nearly didn’t go on. But I did. :)
  • The blurb: “Anna’s daughter Julie was kidnapped from her own bedroom when she was thirteen years old, while Anna slept just downstairs, unaware that her daughter was being ripped away from her. For eight years, she has lived with the guilt and the void in her family, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night, the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. Anna and the rest of the family are thrilled, but soon Anna begins to see holes in Julie’s story. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she is forced to wonder if this young woman is even her daughter at all. And if she isn’t Julie, what is it that she wants?”
  • Oh, ho, ho! “We immediately know that something is off about Julie,” the Los Angeles Review of Books tells us, “but we don’t know quite what it is. We want to believe in the happy reunion, but there are too many jagged edges inviting our suspicion, and once we gain access to Julie’s interior monologue, it becomes clear that neither of our narrators is wholly reliable.”
  • Nice interview with the author includes a discussion of her research, her inspiration and influences, and her thoughts on writing. Check it out.
  • Writers will definitely want to look into how Gentry structured the story, with special attention to the way the past history is revealed. She also used alternating POVs in first and third person. Some commenters in the usual places found this “confusing,” but I didn’t. The themes here are the nature of truth, the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters, identity and how it changes over time, and the nature of sexual assault and victim-blaming.

Tweet: Is she or isn’t she? Good as Gone will keep you guessing.
Tweet: The opening scene was so creepy and scary that I nearly didn’t go on. But I did.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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