by Laura Kasischke
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Last year Godwin Honors Hall was draped in black. The university was mourning the loss of one of its own: Nicole Werner, a blond, beautiful, straight-A sorority sister tragically killed in a car accident that left her boyfriend, who was driving, remarkably—some say suspiciously—unscathed.
Although a year has passed, as winter begins and the nights darken, obsession with Nicole and her death reignites: She was so pretty. So sweet-tempered. So innocent. Too young to die.
Unless she didn’t.
Because rumor has it that she’s back.
I went into this one not really knowing what to expect, though I read it based on a fellow book reviewer’s recommendation. This was my first experience with Kasischke’s work, and I can say with confidence that I’ll read more of her writing in the future.
This novel is set at a university campus, with a heavy focus on Greek life. This was a bit of a turnoff for me at first, because her in Canada, Greek life isn’t really the ‘thing’ the way it is in the United States. It’s difficult for me to relate to girls enduring hazing rituals as pledges, because I can’t entirely understand why anyone would want to join a sorority or fraternity in the first place. The whole concept seems ludicrous to me, but that’s another discussion for another time… back to the book!
We begin the novel at the scene of a car accident, from the point of view of a witness. The actual story then opens several months later, and we learn that the girl from the accident died, her boyfriend has been blamed for it (but not convicted), and he’s back on campus trying to deal with her death. The problem? Other students start seeing the dead girl around campus.
The story unfolds through several avenues: Flashbacks to the year before, when the couple met, followed by present-day action. Multiple points-of-view help tell the story through different avenues, allowing the mystery to reveal itself bit by bit, and each voice is remarkably distinct. None of the flashbacks felt forced, and none of the viewpoints felt out of place (though it did take a little while for one of them to tie into the main story).
I’ll be honest: The amount sexual content in the book was off-putting, but I understand that Kasischke was trying to evoke the ‘college campus’ feel in her story (do students really hop in and out of bed with each other THAT often?! my undergrad experience must have been really sheltered…) and to be fair, none of the sex came across as dirty or gratuitous. It was extremely well written. It’s just my personal feeling that she could have done without the graphic element in several scenes.
For that matter, the writing in the entire book reads almost… peacefully, if that makes any sense. It’s like we’re seeing the events unfold through a dream, removed from the situation and taking it all in piece by piece. I don’t know how she did it, but this didn’t seem at first like the kind of book I’d want to read, and then I found myself unable to put it down. And when I did put it down, it was only for a few minutes and then I literally could not get my work done until I finished the book.
I wouldn’t say I loved it, because I didn’t. What I did love was Kasischke’s incredible mastery of tone, atmosphere, and character. The story was interesting, and I really liked the manner in which she played the whole thing out. I’ve never seen that format done successfully before, but clearly this author has the experience and skill necessary to write a book full of flashbacks and keep it moving forward at a steady pace.
Would I recommend it? Yes, but I also recognize that it’s not going to be for everyone. That said, here I am a month after finishing the novel, and I’m finding myself still thinking about it and the way the events unfolded.
I will definitely be reading more from this author in the future.
About the Author
Laura Kasischke teaches in the University of Michigan MFA program and the Residential College. She has published seven collections of poetry and seven novels. She lives with her family in Chelsea, Michigan.
I received a complimentary digital review copy of this book for review courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers and NetGalley.