Monday, May 15, 2017

You Were Here

You Were Here by Gian Sardar
Penguin Publishing Group: 5/16/17
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399575006

You Were Here by Gian Sardar is a recommended atmospheric debut novel of suspense that follows two storylines in two time periods.

Abby Walter's is currently living in LA with her commitment-phobic boyfriend Robert. She hasn't returned home to Makade, the small Minnesota town she grew up in, for fourteen years. She had horrible recurring nightmares about being buried alive, among other things, and the nightmares stopped after she left. Now she has decided to visit her hometown for the upcoming high school reunion, but especially to research her family's past because the name Claire Ballantine has surfaced in her dreams. She thinks looking into the past may end her nightmares, which have returned with the news of the reunion. Abby's high school crush, Aidan Mackenzie, has also returned to Makade after working on the police force in St. Paul. He's a detective on the trail of a violent serial rapist.

The story set in 1948 focuses on a love triangle, or, really, an affair between a dashing, handsome older man and a younger woman who wants to escape her small town existence. Small town Eva is a young woman in love with William Ballantine, a privileged wealthy man who is married to Claire. William and Eva conduct their affair in Rochester. She takes the bus from her small town and meets him at a house he owns there. The two are in love or obsessed with each other, but William doesn't want to hurt Claire.

The slow moving duel plot eventually connects the two timelines, showing how the decisions made and secrets held in the past have consequences that can influence or affect the future. The secrets actually aren't all that shocking once you get to them because they are easily deduced much earlier in the novel.

The novel is beautifully written, almost poetic at times. The quality of the writing helps You Were Here rise above the numerous plot elements that are less-than-perfect. This isn't really a romance novel, more of an exploration of dark secrets. The romantic connection between Abby and Aidan seemed forced to me and served no real purpose in the plot. The affair between Eva and William has been seen many times before - an older successful man starts an affair with an attractive, desperate-to-escape younger woman.

The characters, for the most part, are well-developed, even if they are also at times a bit too melodramatic. It seems that most of the women in this novel are holding tightly to the role of victim and looking for a man to save them, which became annoying. Abby was the most developed of the characters, while Eva was perhaps the most sympathetic.

To be honest, I had a difficult time finishing this novel and flirted with stopping just before the half-way point. It just didn't seem worth my time. In the end I had to give credit to Sardar for pulling it all together and for the quality of the writing, which is what kept me reading and resulted in my recommendation. But, for followers of my reviews, there were no real surprises in the plot for me, as it all has been done before in one way or another, and the big, shocking twists were all very predictable. Other reviews seem to be more glowing, so it could be I am just the odd miss for the title. Literary fiction readers will appreciate the writing.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.

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