The beauty of the coming-of-age novel is that a reader learns about an experience outside of their personal realm. The joy of the crime novel is the suspense the drama of the book creates for the reader. Mix the two together and one gets a profoundly fantastic novel. And that is what Joyce Maynard has done with her book After Her.
Page 1 – Prologue
Nothing much ever happened on the mountain where we lived, growing up, and we didn’t get cable. We were always hoping for a little excitement. So my sister and I made up situations. All we had was time.
One day we decided to see what if felt like to be dead.
If a person’s dead, they don’t feel anything, Patty said. This was Patty for you.
The plot is set in the summer of 1979. While things seem idyllic at times for Rachel and her younger sister Patty – singing along to a Dean Martin 8-track with their father in his Alfa Romero – the sisters have to deal with the collapse of their family unit, the lack of friends and the onset of puberty. But when young women start showing up dead in the nearby mountain, not only do they have to deal with the stress of the concerns of the neighbourhood, but watch the stress rip apart their detective-father as well.
After that fifth murder, we saw our father even less, except on television, and in the paper. He stopped by just before that Labor Day weekend – one of those brief drop-ins our mother spoke of as his cameo appearances. He had a present for each of us – an Adidas jacket for Patty, a necklace for me.
“It’s been a little stressful lately at work,” he told us – the closest he came to mentioning the Sunset Strangler investigation since his original call to tell us to stay off the mountain. “But I want you to know the even when I don’t come by, I’m always thinking about you two.”
“This is so you’ll look sharp on the basketball court, Patty Cakes,” he said, zipping the jacket up for my sister.
“As for you, Farrah,” he said, handing me the box with the necklace, “this is the year you figure out how beautiful you are. You’ve got one of those faces that take a little time to grow into. But you’re getting there.
“Any boy wants to get near you, he’ll have to talk with me first,” my father said. “They’ll all be wanting to soon. Just don’t waste your time on someone who doesn’t deserve you.”
My father had never even heard the name of Teddy Bascom. So how did he know?
Maynard is able to explain what exactly is going on inside of a teenage girl’s head. Her prose is brilliant and thoughtful without being overly ‘wordy.’
Soon I was making out with Teddy Bascom on a daily basis, mostly in Alison’s rec room, but also in back of the school when classes got out, and out by the basketball court, and pretty much anywhere else I was likely to run into him.
At the time I made no particular differentiation between the concept of a boy being genuinely interested in me and the simple desire of that boy to get his hands on my breast, or any breast. At least three afternoons a week now I went over to Alison’s house after school, and on other occasions I would head over to the rec center to watch Teddy play basketball. Sometimes my sister accompanied me then. What she really wanted was to play, herself, but even though she could have held her own against some of those boys – tricking her defender with a pump fake, then diving past him with her amazing feet to bank it in – they would never have invited her to join.
Least of all Teddy. More than any of the other boys his age. Teddy possessed a kind of confidence and assurance, and obliviousness to the needs of anyone but himself. But I loved how cool he was, and even more, the way his choice of me as his girlfriend – as the girl with whom he hung out at least – conferred a certain coolness on me.
And there is certain sense of drama and suspense that Maynard has added into this book. The reader feels the fear and chill that is running through the main character’s mind.
Just after Veterans Day, another girl disappeared – number eight. This time it happened in Muir Woods, just barely out of sight of the visitors’ center, amazingly, but in a overgrown spot where a couple of old-growth redwoods lay fallen on the forest floor, having no doubt concealed the killer as he lay in wait for his victims.
Her name was Naomi Berman – an eighteen-year-old from New York City who’d flown out to San Francisco with her mother just the day before to visit Stanford; her interview was scheduled for the next afternoon. To pass the time until then, her mother had signed the two of them up for a tour through Marin County. It was the last tour of the day, and the tour guide had given everyone forty-five minutes to explore Muir Woods, but the mother had stayed on the bus, feeling carsick. After an hour passed, and Naomi hadn’t returned, the guide contacted a ranger.
An hour later another ranger found her body. I didn’t ask, and nobody would have told me if I had, but no doubt he found her in the naked prayer position, with the electrical tape over her eyes. Shoelaces gone.
The mix of the coming-of-age novel and the crime book makes After Her by Joyce Maynard a enjoyable and enlightening read. It is a book that needs to be savoured and recommended to fellow literature fans.