“The Next Time You See Me” by Holly Goddard Jones / Touchstone Books, 384 pages
Holly Goddard Jones’ excellent debut novel “The Next Time You See Me” works wonders because it embraces the ordinary. I was glued to the pages, and the familiar characters still resonate, which is a rare treat for such a compelling mystery. Jones’ debut is one of the best non-traditional mysteries since Gillian Flynn’s breakthrough novel “Gone Girl“. Her unique empathy for her characters breathes new life into old scenerios, and will reward you for your time. Jones’ willingness to explain the mundane and petty thoughts of her characters puts you in their shoes, and rivals masters of realism like Stewart O’Nan, Ron Rash, and Tom Drury.
Susanna Eastman is the only one in town concerned about the disappearance of her alcoholic, and burdensome sister Ronnie. Her marriage is falling apart and her husband wishes she would stop worrying. Susanna hasn’t seen Ronnie in weeks, but hasn’t given up hope, despite what everyone in town thinks. Ronnie Eastman is the tie that binds “The Next Time You See Me” together. Everyone is somehow affected by Ronnie, from high school students, to a failed baseball star turned local detective, and a lovelorn factory worker. Learning how everyone’s story is connected is the novel’s real mystery. Jones’ effortlessly writes about teen angst, working class fears, lost love, and the myriad of mixed emotions that comprise the story.
The climax is presented in pieces, and haunts you through the duration. Jones’ effectively tells multiple stories through multiple eyes, giving you layer after layer that constantly forces you to rethink what you’ve already read, and reexamine what you already know. The beauty of “The Next Time You See Me” will come as no surprise if you’ve already read Jones’ superb short story collection “Girl Trouble”. New readers will be surprised to find a debut novel so adept at finding new wonders in daily chores, like love at first sight, and the ability we all have to change. The profound tragedy of “The Next Time You See Me” fully presents itself in the last pages as Jones’ takes you back in time before page one, and tells you what’s really been lost. This is a novel that you will read quickly, think about often, lend to friends, and want to read again.