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The One I Left Behind: A Novel Paperback – January 2, 2013
"The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, The Lying Game. Pre-order today
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Author One-on-One: Jennifer McMahon and Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott: As with your other books, The One I Left Behind is a character‐driven story, but it’s also extremely scary, chronicling a teen girl’s harrowing experience when a serial killer targets her town and eventually, her mother. How do you create suspense in your books?
Jennifer McMahon: When I sit down to write, I typically don’t know what’s going to happen next. I start with an idea and ask questions. Then I start writing to find out the answers. I think the fact that I don’t know, that I’m just kind of letting the story tell itself and show me where it wants to go helps me keep it suspenseful. If I’m on the edge of my seat, then I’m thinking that maybe the readers will be, too. When I wrote the first draft of this book, I didn’t know who the killer was, and the idea that it could be any of the characters kept me on edge.
MA: Reggie, the main character in the book, returns to her hometown after her mother—missing twenty‐five years has been found alive. The book shifts between Reggie’s life as a teenager in the 1980s and the present. What made you choose this structure?
JM: I think at their heart, my books are studies of the choices people make often really bad choices-and the way those choices, along with the secrets we keep, can shape our lives, even change the people we turn out to be. I wanted to show how Reggie became the person she is today; how the events that took place one summer shaped her forever, and how now, she’s got to go back to that summer and face it, whether she wants to or not.
MA: You depict Reggie’s adolescent experience so vividly-all the insecurities, romantic confusion and longing, the feverish intensity of friendships among young girls. Are you particularly drawn to writing about this age group?
JM: For whatever reason, writing these types of characters these quirky, imaginative, misfit girls somewhere between 6 and 15comes naturally to me. I think my own childhood and early adolescence was a particularly bizarre, difficult and yet magical time, so that period is still very vivid in my head, and thankfully, flows easily onto the page.
MA: Even though The One I Left Behind is a mystery, at its heart are a pair of relationships: Reggie and her best friend Tara, and Reggie and her mother, Vera, a former model with a complicated personal life. How do you balance relationships and plot?
JM: I think the two are interconnected: the relationships shape the plot and the plot shapes the way the characters behave toward one another. For me, they develop together. I often learn about my characters and their relationships to the people in their lives by making terrible things happen nothing like loved ones in jeopardy to put all your relationships to the test!
MA: It strikes me that suspense is a very “intimate” genre. The relationship between the author and the reader is so intense because the author tries to generate such powerful responses in the reader. Do you feel that way?
JM: I think you’re absolutely right! We’re taking people to some pretty dark places and showing them some scary stuff. I love hearing from people who tell me they had to sleep with the lights on after finishing one of my books – I feel connected to that person in some way, like I shared a piece of one of my nightmares with them and now it’s theirs as well. That is a pretty intimate thing.
Reggie Dufrane was a gawky teenager when a serial killer dubbed Neptune began kidnapping women in her sleepy hometown of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. (The killer would leave one severed hand from each victim on the police department steps, then display their bodies around town.) Reggie and her misfit friends—gutsy goth Tara and crushworthy Charlie, the cute son of the local detective—are pulled into Neptune’s web when Reggie’s mother, Vera, becomes the latest victim. A former model, Vera wasn’t around much for her daughter, and Reggie wonders if her mother’s insatiable appetite for liquor and men made her a target. Like the others, Vera’s amputated hand is soon left by the killer. But her body is never found, and little hope remains of it being discovered. Some 25 years later, Reggie, now a successful architect in Vermont, receives word from a hospital that her mother is alive. She returns home, unearthing old demons and harrowing family truths. In this latest offering, McMahon’s alternating chapters—jumping between present and past—slow the momentum of an otherwise well-spun tale. --Allison Block
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Top customer reviews
I am not very good at guessing "who-dun-it" but I figured out the killer very early on. This detracted from the books appeal. About 1/2 way in I simply HAD to cut to the end & then back track & read here and there to maintain my interest in the story & the multiple characters. But I did read 95% of it so I was at least intrigued enough to keep going & get to the end. I would have edited this book down by about 100 pages -- it is simply too long to support the plot & the readers full interest.
Reggie was only 13 when Neptune, the serial killer haunting her town, took her mother. He removes the right hand of his victims on day one, and leaves their bodies on day five. But when Reggie's mother is taken, her hand is found, but her body never surfaces. Just as this happens, Reggie's friendships are being put to the test, and she needs someone to be there to help her through it all.
25 years later, Reggie has found a way to live beyond her past, becoming a renowned architect. The past still plagues her though. She doesn't trust people enough to form solid relationships; she keeps people at a distance. When her mother is brought to a hospital, diagnosed with cancer, Reggie must head home to face the past she wishes would just stay away.
The story is told in the present and 25 years ago, through the eyes of 13-year-old Reggie. As an adult, she is starting to see that everything she thought her childhood was maybe wasn't exactly as she remembered it. She's having to face things she never thought would come up again and she learns truths she had never questioned as a child. Her mother is dying and still faces the demons of her past, now a shadow of the woman she used to be.
As a 13 year old, Reggie didn't see the truth of her mother; she saw what her mother told her. Her aunt was trying to protect her, but all Reggie saw was an aunt who despised her mother. Reggie knew her mother was flighty, but she didn't see the seedier side of her life. When the murders begin, she isn't prepared for the toll they will take on her relationships, both with her family and friends. She's trying to grow up, confused as to how to do so, and no one is there to help her.
In the present, all those old insecurities and problems arise once her mother is brought home. She must face the past and confront it head on in order to find a way to move forward with her life.
I must say, this book had me guessing the entire way through. I had a hunch, and while my hunch was correct, I was wholly unprepared for the reveal. I tried to figure everything out, look at all the little clues, but I didn't see how they fit together until the very end. I was wrapped up in the mystery, trying to figure out Neptune's reasons for what he did, wondering if understanding his head would help me see who he was. I felt a little like a detective as I read and I really appreciate a book that can make me feel that.
The One I Left Behind is about more than a serial killer. It's about growing up, confronting the past, and learning that what you see isn't always the truth. It gave me shivers and had me guessing on the identity of Neptune until the very end. If you're looking for a good thriller, this is your book.
But mainly I'm giving the book two stars based on the serial killer plot, which I found both predictable (the murderer is relatively easy to guess early on) and unbelievable by the end.
The strengths here are the characters. Reggie Dufrane is a fine protagonist, and her relationships with her friends and struggles with the issues of her family and past are all compelling. If you enjoy McMahon's characters, it's still worth the read. I just found myself wishing that the book had dealt with its serial killer in a more realistic fashion, perhaps by leaving it unsolved, because the resolution presented felt predictable, forced and unbelievable to me.
Still, it was a good book, just not as good as I thought it was going to be.
Interesting storyline that bounces between past and present. The chapters time frame is clearly titled to help guide the reader.
Believable characters with distinct personalities. Thought-provoking and informative dialogue.
No desire to re-read this story. I may be interested in other works by this author.