Those of us who grew up in a small town can relate to the feeling of watching your peers leave full of hope and then returning, finding themselves trapped with no way out. On the night of her high school graduation, Becca Williams is dumped by her boyfriend James. She doesn’t know while she was left heartbroken, another woman, Amelia Ann Richardson, took her last breath. In many ways Becca fears being trapped in Bridgeton and in the end Amelia Anne is forever stuck there.
As far as character development goes, there’s not much there. I learned more about Amelia Anne from herself than those around her. In terms of our main character, Becca, I could relate to her and the dread of knowing she might never leave the town grew up in, but who exactly is she? She’s really bland and I found it hard to like her. When we’re told by other characters she’s stuck up, show me. Then we have her boyfriend, James and it’s pretty apparent her parents disapprove of him because he’s a dropout. He harbors a secret that is later revealed and I have to wonder about his personality. What drew Becca to him? Rosenfield also missed an opportunity to expand on Becca’s father as a character. We’re told he’s the town judge and in a murder investigation he’s kept abreast regarding the status. He’s virtually nonexistent and provides a few details that Becca takes away from, but overall there’s much there. I think back to the rest of the supporting cast and walk away with the same feeling. There’s so much that could have been expanded on, but wasn’t. I wonder for the most part if it’s because Rosenfield was trying to remain mysterious by not giving us in-depth characters.
A few readers have mentioned difficulty in the narration with alternating point of views. I found no problem with the set up and in many ways we needed the differing narratives. This also isn’t your typical mystery with a running thread and trying to figure out the events that lead to Amelia Anne’s death. Instead Rosenfield utilizes alternating POVs from First to Third to take us on the journey based in the future that parallels with the events in the past. We’re also presented with three suspects early on and it is pretty easy to narrow it down to one. At times I really wanted ____ to be the murder then realized I didn’t, because what would that mean for Becca? I then decided if ___ really was the murder, then Becca had the excuse to leave without looking back. I’ll keep tight-lipped regarding the ending, but it was fairly obvious early on who the suspect was. For me this isn’t the typical formula followed by most mystery writers, but it works.
Despite a few flaws there’s no mistaking Rosenfield’s beautiful writing. It’s evocative and haunting. Several times I found myself just rereading sentences because of the prose.
Becca describes people coming back to town and the inability to leave, “I’d seen it happen, how hard it was to get out. Every year, one or two kids would visit from college for a long October weekend and simply never leave. They came home, cocooned themselves in the familiar radius of the town limits, and never broke free again. Years later, you’d see them working in the kitchen at the pizza place, or sitting at the bar in the East Bank Tavern. Shoulders hunched, jaw set, skin slack. And in the waning light of their eyes, the barest sensation that once upon a time, they been somewhere else… or maybe it was only a dream.”
On the discovery of Amelia Anne’s body, “She was dry, dry inside like a ten-thousand-year-old tomb, with the last of her life barely dampening the dirt underneath.”
Finally, describing how plans are put to a stop by outside forces, “That girl, dead and gone, her spirit trapped forever just inside town limits—she’d come from someplace, was going somewhere. Until destiny had stepped into the road in front of her, stopped her forward motion, drawn a killing claw against the white, fluttering swell of her future. Whispering, ‘Oh no, you don’t.’
When you made plans, the saboteurs came out to play.”
I had a difficult time deciding what I should rate Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone. In my eyes, it’s a 3; meaning it’s good and not quite up to 4. Ultimately what makes it a 3 is the character development and the timeline. We start off at Becca’s graduation then all of sudden we are in July and at the end of August with no real sense of time passing or being told. Furthermore, the author in several places mentions a past event occurring in the town and never finishes what she’s saying. Later she picks up right where she left off, but never mentions she’s talking about the past event and it’s up to the reader to recognize it’s the past she’s discussing. I also have a slight problem with the ending (I still have questions surrounding a few key pieces) and it all seemed rushed.
Overall Kat Rosenfield’s Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is a strong debut and she has a bright future ahead of her. I, for one, can’t wait to see her future work.