Saturday, June 29, 2013

What we're reading: Secrets, lies and love

This weekend I checked out Harlan Coben's latest, Six Years, from the new book shelf. It's another stand-alone, and the premise is interesting: Six years ago, Jake Fisher fell in love. Six years ago, after an all-consuming summer romance with a woman he thought would be his forever, she abruptly and unceremoniously dumped him to marry her old boyfriend, Todd. On her wedding day, Natalie tells Jake (who masochistically attends the wedding) to forget about her, and makes him promise never to contact her again.

For six years, he has kept that promise; he has thrown himself into his work--he's a college professor--and has tried not to think of Natalie daily, hourly, constantly, and mostly he has failed; but he has honored his promise to leave her alone. Then, by an extraordinary coincidence, he sees a photograph on his college's website of the man Natalie married; he's apparently an alumnus of the same college where Jake now teaches, and the photo accompanies his obituary.

Jake considers that with her husband dead, perhaps his vow to Natalie no longer need hold, so he goes to Todd's funeral resolved to seek her out, only to discover that the wife sitting dressed in mourning in the front pew of the church is not Natalie, that Todd was married to this woman for two decades and has two children with her, and that no one seems to know who or where Natalie could be. In fact, none of the people they knew while together as a couple will acknowledge him or admit they recognize him; and the harder he tries to figure out how to locate Natalie, the more confusing it all becomes. The question for the reader becomes, Is Jake paranoid, delusional, and possibly flat-out crazy? Or is there something sinister going on?

Coben manages the twists and turns of his story adeptly. The secrets are well maintained, and the reveal at the end is exciting. Although I found Jake's determination to keep looking for Natalie, even when he realizes that to do so may put both himself and his true love at risk, a bit implausible, I could understand the compulsion that drove him. One reviewer commented that the skill of this book is that all the significant events actually took place in the past, and while there is absolutely no urgency (except in Jake's mind) about solving this puzzle (unlike the typical thriller that's "on the clock"), Coben manages nevertheless to maintain a feeling of suspense throughout. I would have to agree!

Rumor has it that there will be a movie in 2014, and that it will star Hugh Jackman as the lovelorn professor. Works for me!

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