“You know, just the other day I saw someone who looked like you.”
How many times have you heard someone say this? And then, you begin to wonder if you have a double or doppelganger, the German folklore ghost or shadow version of yourself, in the neighborhood. And is that a good or bad spirit?
Minka Kent uses this possibility as a point of departure for her 2020 thriller, “When I Was You”. Set on the plains of western Iowa in the fictional town of Quinnesec Bluffs, the start feels comfortably familiar. Within a few pages you realize this is not Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, “Little House on the Prairie”.
Brienne Dougray, a young independent woman, is living by herself in her family home, inherited from her deceased relatives. She is still recovering from the trauma of a recent assault and battery incident. To have a sense of protection, she has taken on a tenant, Niall Emberlin, an unmarried local hospital surgeon with a gentle, protective nature. Evidently, Minka Kent likes names with double letters.
All is going smoothly until Brienne receives in the mail a duplicate key for a house she is renting… or is she? Her initially hesitant sleuthing leads her to believe there is someone remarkably like her moving around town. It gets more complicated when her concerns are not taken seriously and may possibly be hallucinations.
Does the 1944 film, “Gaslight”, with Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury come to mind? It should. There is a lot of gaslighting by novel’s end.
After a relaxed beginning, the pace picks up once you realize what is going on. The narratives shift back and forth between Brienne and Niall and the momentum builds with shorter chapters toward the end.
Kent shows a nice familiarity with how current technology and available information can aid people with accelerating whatever their plans are, for better or worse. This is a refreshing difference from other stories ignoring technology altogether or just assuming it gets the desired results.
That said, while the susceptibility of Brienne seems entirely plausible in today’s world, the ending seemed less suspenseful, almost predictable. Particularly when so many real life events with different consequences are reported in the media.