The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave: book review
Overview: Hannah is a thirty-eight-year-old woodturner working in New York City when she meets Owen by chance. He's in town from San Francisco on a work trip, and they have an instant connection. In the two years that follow, Hannah struggles to find acceptance in his teenage daughter Bailey's life. Then, one day, Hannah gets an ominous note from Owen, and he disappears in a confusing cloud of questions. Going against law enforcement's recommendation, Hannah takes Bailey with her on a quest to answer the giant questions Owen has created and find him again. The answers they find are almost worse than the mystery. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 I like Hannah. She's genuinely trying her best at all times, even through very stressful situations. We learn about her background being abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandfather and her deep connection with her woodworking. This gives her depth and some guiding principles when her new husband throws her for a loop and leaves her with his teenage daughter. We know enough about Hannah to provide weight for what unfolds, but the characters aren't really the point in this book.
Bailey is a moody teenager, which Hannah is remarkably understandable about. It's mainly Hannah reminding the reader of how special and important Bailey is while we're only shown her generally hateful attitude. I wish Bailey had been allowed to have a few more layers, but I also get that this is a first person novel told from Hannah's point of view, so there's only so much we're getting into her.
We also don't know a ton about Owen, and as the novel progresses, it turns out everything Hannah and Bailey know about Owen is fake. We get small glimpses of his character through flashbacks that are incorporated every few chapters that show that he is sweet and caring and attentive. These aren't very long or detailed, but they are incredibly important to give the reader at least a small indication about why this guy is so worth fighting for.
Plot: 4 It takes about 120 or so pages to really get to the thriller aspect of this book, which is surprising because the book is only 300 pages. It's not even that there's too much set up, she just spends a lot of time sitting at home and processing, meeting various law enforcement agents, and sitting with her friend, Jules before she starts figuring anything out. Even after they leave the city on their quest, it takes a while for them to find any leads that get them closer to the answer and raise the stakes. The anxiety it creates grows slowly. While it's never a particularly scary novel for a thriller, there is more urgency at the end. It's fast paced even before it gets off the ground, and each chapter asks interesting enough questions that it makes you want to keep reading and discovering the layers of deceit and the why's behind them.
Writing: 4 This is a super quick, easy read. I finished it in a day without really trying. It's only 300 pages, but it's also compulsively readable, and I was shocked at how quickly I was able to read a page. The writing doesn't feel overly simplistic. Instead, it feels like Dave is making a very intentional choice to not let the writing interrupt sinking completely into the story and allowing it to come alive. The way she writes is super digestible, which helps the pace and urgency. It was a good read, and if you're looking for a bit of a thriller but not one that'll make it hard for you to sleep, this is a good choice.
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