This fall, I waited impatiently for IN THE VANISHING HOUR by Sarah Beth Martin to finally drop. I was drawn by the gorgeous, slightly-menacing gloom and green of the cover and the promise of a mystery with psychological depth and lovely writing style.
I was not disappointed.
In fact, everything about this book delighted me, so much so that I read it slowly, savoring the atmosphere and the language. Martin knows her way around a sentence, my friends. She also knows how to dive deep into the psyche while still managing to hold onto some secrets. A feat of craftsmanship. Let me explain:
IN THE VANISHING HOUR is a mid-20th century dual timeline and dual protagonist story. Reading it feels like taking a deep dive (yes, that’s intended) into the murky depths and currents of a person’s mind. In 1951, an adolescent boy drowns in the Charles River in the town of Norumbega. His death devastates the family, and the boy’s younger sister, Frances, becomes…stuck. She’s a dreamy child, haunted by imagination or ghosts or both. By 1959, she’s an immature new adult, working in a local department store and led around by the nose by her pushy friend, Iris.
Frances has dreams for her life, but she’s unable to move toward them.
That year, Frances falls under the pleasant spell of a new employee, a female model with the same red hair as Frances but with much more vivaciousness and style. When this young women ALSO drowns in the Charles that year, Iris convinces Frances to “investigate” a trio of hoodlums who spend their evenings hanging out at the local amusement park.
One of that trio is Harris. He is the other character into whose mind we are allowed entry. We first overhear his thoughts in the year 1974, fifteen years after the second drowning. He’s become an architect and has left his buddies in Norumbega behind. But then he’s hired to work on a project at the old amusement park site and is reunited with his old friends…and his memories.
The most fascinating part of Martin’s book is the clever way she allows us deep into Frances’s and Harris’s thoughts while keeping the secrets stored there. It’s about the memories we skirt around in our own minds, thoughts we avoid thinking–whether because of grief, confusion, sadness, fear, or guilt. When Frances and Harris refuse to think about certain incidents (they often come right up to the edge and shudder and step back), we the readers can’t get at them either!
We are drawn along the corridors of their minds, gathering little crumbs when they are dropped in less guarded moments, trying to “solve” the mystery or at least uncover what happened to the boy and the young woman.
It’s not until these two finally face their memories–and discover a few new artifacts hidden in mud and family history–that they and we learn the truth about what happened to the two people who drowned in the Charles fifteen years apart, the connection between them, and the secrets behind the tragedies that changed the course of several people’s lives.
It’s brilliant. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys books with a mid-century setting, dual timeline stories, mysteries with some whodunit characteristics, psychological deep dives, and delightful literary prose.
Note from Shelley:
Hi, there! I review books I’m reading. I also conduct author interviews, talk about the writing life and creativity, and send out a chatty email letter called REMARKABLE! A Literary Community Newsletter to my fans and subscribers.
Currently, I’m active on Facebook and Instagram. This is all continually evolving. I’d eventually love to make this website my base of operations rather than social media, but until then you can find me in these several places.
The BEST WAY to keep in the loop is to sign up for my email/newsletter list. The other platforms only “push” out certain content to certain people a certain number of times based on an unrelenting (but constantly updated) and deliberately murky algorithm.
On the other hand, if you sign up for my email, add my address [email protected] to your contact list, and make sure you’ve dragged my email to your primary inbox, you will get every announcement, offer, upcoming book information, and be part of a growing community of friends/fans/literary folks.
When you sign up, you get access to a “Secret Page” here on ShelleyBurbank.com. There you will find stories and other freebies I’ll be creating as I grow in this writing biz. Currently I have a free eBook novelette called Annabelle, Seriously. It’s easy to download, or simply read on the page.
Sign up below and thanks in advance! XOXO, Shelley