The screenwriter who penned "Psycho" is quoted as saying that when we watch or read scary stuff we don’t think about the real things that are frightening us. We allow ourselves to be “frightened by fantasy and that’s not only more bearable” than dealing with unbearable reality — it may also help us cope better with crises, be more resilient when preparing for tough times.
Maybe. But for sure, an impressive new thriller, "Don’t Look For Me" by best-selling author Wendy Walker seems likely to distract us for a time from the pandemic while also suggesting how we might better manage psychological threats close to home. A tale of nail-biting suspense, "Don’t Look For Me" opens with the foreboding sentence: “The sky grows dark as I drive.”
Molly Clarke is inching through a chain of small New England towns littered with old industrial hubs left to decay — neglected farmlands, dilapidated houses, abandoned factories. A hurricane is moving in fast and she’s low on gas. The fog has become impenetrable, the wind fierce. And the nearby station’s closed; everything’s closed.
Does it matter? Molly’s full of despair, guilt, self-loathing. She tried to visit her son at school but he ignored her. Her eldest child Nicole despises her with a ferocious passion. Her husband has withdrawn his affections. These three, the most beloved persons in her life, in their different ways hold her accountable for having killed her youngest child who suddenly ran in front of her car five years earlier.
A caring and resourceful middle-school science teacher, Molly’s tried therapy numerous times, but it hasn’t worked. She blames herself for being a bad mother even though it was a freak accident. Maybe, in this fog and storm, she’ll just . . . disappear. The car dies, the rain whips up. She’s alone.
Then, providentially, a truck with a man and a child inside stops. They offer her a ride. Uneasy but soaking now from the torrential downpour, she climbs in. And then she hears the truck doors lock. “Locking shut.” Cue the music score to “Psycho.”
"Don’t Look For Me" is a compelling narrative about stalking, kidnapping and murder set in a creepy wooded Connecticut nowhere. It precedes in alternating chapters. Molly’s first person narrative, as she finds herself a desperate prisoner of the truck driving man and a third person narration for Nicole, who, along with her father and brother, came looking for Molly but found nothing. All of them concluding, Molly wanted to disappear. But slowly Nicole allows her anger to give way to anxiety for her mother and an understanding of the depths of grief. Both feelings prompt her a couple of weeks later to come back to the town to investigate on her own. The two narratives move at the same time. Will the points of view converge at the same time?
On a deeper level than suspense, Walker’s novel explores failed family relationships, particularly between mothers and daughters. And the fall out from grief. Enough diversion to put COVID on the back burner for a few hours? Probably, but also, likely to get us thinking about how in challenging times we might draw more on strengths we instinctively have.