“Not That I Could Tell”, by Jessica Strawser

The sudden disappearance of Kristin and her young twins has her neighbors on edge. Afterall, several of them were drinking cocktails with her in a neighbor’s backyard the night before she was reported missing. Was it foul play or did Kristin intend to disappear?

Kristin seems to be a bit of a super woman – she’s a college administrator, mother of twins who’s very active at their preschool and a doctor’s wife. But she has a tragedy in her past. Her first husband died when she was pregnant with the twins and she married the doctor, Paul, soon thereafter. Now she and Paul are getting a divorce, but it’s not clear why. Some people think Paul is an angel, others think it’s a facade. It’s not clear what is going on behind closed doors.

Most of the story is told from the perspectives of Izzy and Clara. Clara is one of Kristin’s neighbors and close friends. She’s married to a great guy and has two young kids. She left the workforce fairly recently and is going through the typical struggles of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s a little nosy about the details of the investigation and surprised by what she finds out. Turns out Clara didn’t know her good friend, Kristin, very well, at all.

Izzy is a young, single radio producer who recently moved into the neighborhood. The love of her life married Izzy’s younger sister, leaving Izzy devastated and lonely. It’s also made her vulnerable to misplacing her sympathy, which she does with her neighbor, Paul. She sees him as a kindred spirit, a fellow victim of heartbreak.The two begin to form a bond that is odd but also kind of makes sense.

The investigation of Kristin’s disappearance is set against the backdrop of idyllic Yellow Springs, OH. The ultra progressive preschool that Kristin and Clara’s children attend is featured regularly and provides some comic relief in the form of rules that go a little too far. But the investigation soon turns cold as Kristin and her twins seem to have vanished without a trace, leaving her neighbors on edge. Did Kristin just successfully flee a bad situation or was it something more sinister?

“Not That I Could Tell” is a slowly unfolding suspense novel. There is a little bit of excitement and a twist at the end, but mostly it’s the kind of story that analyzes the people left behind. The author very accurately captures what women think and experience about family, marriage, motherhood and friendship. Clara is refreshingly satisfied with her marriage but struggles a little with her new role as stay-at-home mom, feels guilty that she didn’t know Kristin as well as she thought and is reluctant to share some things with the police because it might make her neighbors feel bad or it might reflect badly on her. Some of Clara’s thoughts and feelings should be familiar, as well – she’s insecure and unhappy with her job, takes pity on someone that seems lonely and possibly wronged, and feels guilty about some of her behavior towards her family while at the same time struggling to change that behavior. There was a lot of relateable content in this book about motherhood, empathy and making the right decisions in every day life.

I enjoyed “Not That I Could Tell”. The storytelling and message reminded me of works by Liane Moriarty. If you’re looking for a high octane or super clever suspense novel, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a smart novel about how typical people react to unexpected and potentially tragic events, check out “Not That I Could Tell.”

Thanks for the recommendation, Tracy!

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