“There is nothing more dangerous, nothing more powerful, nothing more necessary and essential for survival than the lies we tell ourselves.”
Having read my share of mysteries and thrillers, I can rattle off some things that most of those books include. A deliberate murder or two; a few people with a motive; victims whose characters are never really flushed out, leaving the live characters as the main focus rather than the dead ones; sometimes an additional death while the mystery solvers are trying to unravel the truth; and very often, another person with a motive we don’t know about until close to the end.
Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls does conform to that formula…but not comfortably. Actually, there is nothing comfortable about the experience of reading this book. If you’re anything like me, you’ll say you can’t stand it and then when you’re done, start looking for more books like it. And I’m not sure there is one.
Due to the disjointed way in which it’s written, I’ve honestly been having trouble organizing my thoughts about this book into something coherent. The story is advertised as being written in reverse, which is true but also not entirely accurate; I’d classify it more as timehopping than strictly being told in reverse. The narration is in the voice of Main Character 1, Nicolette “Nic” Farrell, whose best friend Corinne–or Main Character 2 according to me–disappeared ten years before when they were eighteen. I name Corinne as a main character despite her being dead because a significant percentage of the book is dedicated to describing her troubling tendencies and rather deplorable character while trying to simultaneously explain why people, particularly Nic, were so drawn to her despite her awfulness. This gives rise to a host of reasons why various people may have wanted to kill her, and the timeline jumps back and forth between two different periods: the two weeks in the present leading up to the book’s conclusion, and the few weeks in the past surrounding Corinne’s disappearance.
While I have to say the whole distorted timeline thing kind of confused and annoyed me at certain points, I can’t see the story being what it is were it to be told in a more linear fashion. Miranda includes quite a bit of outspoken ruminating about the nature of time and memories, so clearly the back-and-forth plotting device she was using is meant to say something about the nature of time itself. What I took away from her words and her plotting is that there can be a realness to the concept that time is not linear despite that we normally do experience it that way. Each of us has doors through which we can instantly be transported to the past for better or for worse. It may be skeletons in our closets or simply strong memories that tie us to what we perceive as being our most important life experiences; some parts we embrace while others we push away. This is a book about the ones we push away, the parts of the past we leave as far behind as we can and yet never detach from at all. “You change. But the past, it’s still there. The only thing moving is you.”
I’d recommend reading this book in as short of a period and in as few sessions as possible. The more time you leave in between what you’ve read, the more likely you may be to get lost in the structure of the narration. Sometimes I’d find myself questioning certain detail, wondering how it had come up without my realizing it and whether I should go back and read some previous part of the book again, before remembering of course that it’s purposely written out of order. It drove me crazy the way my mind was reaching for understanding of things I wasn’t supposed to understand yet. And yet the more I read, the more I began to understand that this is probably the way real murder mysteries unravel. Look from a new angle. Find a clue. Go back and examine the context of that clue. Take that as far as it goes. Sometimes it branches off into something else and the trail continues; other times you lose the scent and that roll you were on stops cold. That’s what reading this book is like; you never know when Miranda is going to push Stop and Rewind, or catapult you back into the present, or where she’ll send you next. You just know you have to find out what happened, almost as bad as Nic herself. Or perhaps even more.