After Her

By Joyce Maynard

(HarperCollins, $25.99, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Joyce Maynard first gained fame as a very young writer in 1972, when The New York Times published her essay “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life.” It struck many readers as presumptuous, but attracted the attention of reclusive author J.D. Salinger (you may have heard of him) and, after she dropped out of Yale,  led to a 10-month affair between the 18-year-old woman and the 53-year-old man – which struck many as even more presumptuous.

But Maynard was more than just Salinger’s brief paramour. She went on to become a New York Times reporter, magazine writer, radio commentator, syndicated columnist and author of eight novels, including “To Die For” and “The Good Daughters, four books of nonfiction and the  bestselling memoir, “At Home in the World,” which detailed her relationship with Salinger. . Her bestselling novel,. “Labor Day,” is being adapted by director Jason Reitman for a film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Maynard lived in New Hampshire for many years and now lives in California.

What is this book about?

Inspired by true crimes — the Trailside Killer case in Marin County, California, in the late 1970s – this is a coming of age novel blended with a murder mystery. Sisters Rachel and Patty, daughters of a charismatic, handsome detective and his sadly cheated-upon wife, are growing up bored in Northern California and watching with  alarm as their father fails to solve the growing number of  “Sunset Strangler” murders of young women that happened on a nearby mountain where the sisters often play. Patty reveres her big sister, who fancies that she can read minds and has visions, and the two devise dangerous games to entertain themselves. Then Rachel tries to help her father by risking her own life to expose the killer, a ploy that backfires, ruining his career and changing all their lives. Many years later, Rachel tries again to discover the killer and in so doing, digs up a family secret.

Why you’ll like it:

Maynard gets the way young girls think and is a born storyteller. Besides the compelling murder mystery, she spins a tale of a family damaged by divorce and the complicated ways girls seek to find themselves and enter womanhood. Maynard is particularly good on the intricacies of sisterhood, and she deftly combines the thriller aspects of the unresolved murders with the more mundane yet still moving details of a broken family and bonds that are bent but not broken.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “Bestselling author Maynard (The Good Daughters) returns with the story of a broken family rocked by a real-life Bay Area serial killer. Rachel Torricelli and her younger sister, Patty, idolized their father, a homicide detective with a voice like Dino and an insatiable love for women—especially his daughters. After divorce split up their home, he mostly disappeared, and Rachel, who recounts the story as an adult (and a mystery writer), was content playing backyard games and bossing Patty around. But their play is tinged with darkness in the summer of 1979, when murders begin occurring along Marin County’s hiking trails. The girls’ father is on the case and his sudden star power makes Rachel popular, but she can’t resist chasing clues (some courtesy of “visions”), putting her and her sister in harm’s way. Maynard captures the way that memory works in fragments: Rachel recalls “My Sharona” as the soundtrack of the summer, fusing her perspective with that of the killer, who sings it to his victims. Her retelling also flip-flops seamlessly from her teenage anxieties to the front-page news—a testament to Maynard’s narrative dexterity. This cinematic coming-of-age murder mystery satisfyingly blends suspense with nostalgia.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: “Cycling through big themes–love for a flawed father and a loyal sister; the pursuit of a serial killer; coming-of-age/receiving of family wisdom–Maynard’s latest starts strong but fades. Thirteen-year-old Rachel Torricelli, inseparable big sister of Patty, narrates the story, set in the San Francisco suburbs of the late 1970s. Both girls adore their father, Anthony, a charismatic but inconstant police detective who quits the family home when Rachel is 8, leaving their fragile mother depressed and short of cash. The girls’ playground, right behind their house, is Mount Tamalpais, a place full of possibilities, until the Sunset Strangler begins raping and murdering women there. With her handsome father on television leading the murder investigation, Rachel suddenly finds herself popular and attractive to boys. Her busy imagination–she aspires to be a writer–leads to speculation on sex and death and “visions” of the killings. But, despite authorial teasers, the story loses momentum as the sequence of murders grows and Detective Torricelli fails to solve them, diminishing him in the eyes of everyone. With the time frame speeding up, the novel thins out, ending in a speedy, decades-later wrap-up that offers more tidiness than conviction. There’s fluency and insight here but also a shortage of subtlety, with the book’s underpinnings too visible through its skin.”

Library Journal says:  “….This title is loosely based on the Trailside Killer case that terrified Marin in the 1970s. Here the case is seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old, giving Maynard’s … thriller an interesting twist on what would otherwise be a simple reworking of a cold case of serial murder. Rachel is so focused on saving her father and her parents’ failed marriage that everything else in the world around her is merely a blur.”

“Part family reminiscence, part girl detective story, “After Her” combines the intimacy of one teen’s coming-of-age with the suspense of a serial killer mystery. With warmth and redeeming humor, Joyce Maynard delivers the terror and confusion of adolescence,” says author Stewart O’Nan.

When is it available?

You can find this book at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Dwight and Goodwin branches.

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