I had high hopes for this book. The premise hooked me at once: Wren meets Adam through a dating app, and things are going really well, but then he totally ghosts her. She thinks perhaps it’s because she’s shared too much of her past with him, but then a private investigator, Bailey, shows up, and Wren learns that Adam has ghosted other women before, and that these women went missing shortly after.
And for the first half, I was into it. Unger sets the story in early 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to reach international consciousness. Considering how dramatically the world of dating changed during the pandemic, having it loom over the future of Wren and Adam’s relationship added an exciting bit of tension to the story. I also liked the little hints dropped about Wren’s traumatic past, and how much she’d done to reinvent herself and leave her old self completely behind.
I was a little less into how Wren seems to associate online dating with being lonely and desperate; so many people are dating online now that, especially in early 2020, it seems a rather retrograde stigma, but fine — it wasn’t enough of an annoyance to turn me off. And I did like how it fit thematically with Wren’s character — she works as an advice columnist for folks with rather serious problems, and she says that it’s her own vulnerability and trauma that makes her good at her job, so that ties in really well with the loneliness and desperation that she says got her into online dating.
It was in the second half that the book really began to drag for me. Wren’s search for Adam was interspersed with flashbacks of her childhood — basically, her father was a doomsday conspiracist who forced their family to live in the woods, and his paranoia sometimes turned violent. So, it’s a compelling story, and the guilt Wren carries with her as a result of a traumatic incident is a compelling bit of character building. But there were a LOT of flashbacks, which just bored me after a while. There was a thread about a friend Wren makes in the woods, that I presume was intended to highlight her psychological state, but while it was a significant part of Wren’s character, I thought it was handled confusingly, and ultimately got lost in all the clutter about their lives in the woods.
Wren’s motivations also felt unclear to me. At first, I could see she wanted to find Adam because she wanted to know why he ghosted her, but then her feelings seem to change partway through, as do her reasons for wanting to find Adam. The reasons behind the shift were muddy enough, but mostly, I wasn’t sure what she wanted to achieve anymore. Similarly, she goes from wanting Bailey to leave her alone, to wanting to help with his investigation, and at some point, she decides to go rogue and find Adam on her own. Her motivations have a lot more to do with her desire to find Adam than her desire to help Bailey, so the flip-flopping makes a kind of sense, but I just had to pause reading every so often and ask “Why?”
The book spent so much time building up Wren’s childhood and the events that led to her present, yet, to me, didn’t spend nearly enough effort in developing the present-day narrative. I don’t necessarily mind books with unreliable narrators, but often, those narrators have clearly defined logic for their actions; it’s only the reveal that reframes our understanding of this logic. In this case, Wren seems less an unreliable narrator than a muddled one, as if the author tried to cram so much in, but didn’t quite make all of it fit.
I did finish the book, mostly because I was genuinely curious about what Adam had to do with the missing women, and was hoping that the answer to that question would make everything click together. For that reason, I found the climactic reveal the most frustrating of all. Similar to the flashbacks of Wren’s childhood, the villain’s backstory fits in thematically with the rest of the book, but doesn’t quite provide the “Aha!” moment of clarity I’d hoped for. The villain’s connection to Wren is doled out sparingly over several pages, in a way that felt more frustrating than suspenseful. And then there was a dramatic finish to a confrontation that just honestly took me right out of the book completely. I’m all for suspending disbelief while reading thrillers, but that resolution was just, to me, taking several steps too far in the name of drama.
Overall, this book had a solid start, but a frustrating, disappointing end.
Thank you to Park Row for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.