Monday, April 7, 2008

The Year of Fog

There were a few things that tempted me to pick up this novel and put it in my store basket. The cover said it was a book for those who liked Jacquelyn Mitchard and Jodi Picoult. I suppose that made me peruse it at first for I do like both those authors. Turning to the back cover I found the story dealt with every parent's worst nightmare, a missing child. A story that I could relate to in a small way.

Once, when she was three years old, I lost my daughter for about half an hour. Every Tuesday and Thursday I played tennis with three other women and all our children were in school except my younger one. The tennis courts were in a park and outside the fence was a children's playground where she played quite happily in the sandbox, alone or with any other children who came by. Two of the four of us could see her at all times and for part of the morning a nearby pre-school class came to spend a half hour or so and she joined in with them which was fine with Mrs Wen, the teacher, whom we knew.

One day, I suddenly realized she was not in the park. My heart dropped. There is no other way to describe it. I was panic stricken. I was dumbfounded. How could I have not noticed her leaving? My first thought was that she had followed the children back across the road to their pre-school. Racing there we asked had they seen her, but no, not since they had left the park. I remember so clearly hearing a siren in the distance and thinking she'd been hit by a car. Fortunately it continued on.

We all began searching the gardens of the nearby houses and the back lanes. Well of course we found her in a back garden, where she was playing with a child she had met in the park. She greeted us happily telling us about her new friend. How could I be angry with her? It was my fault for not watching her more closely. I felt like such a bad, careless, selfish mother. Nothing happened to her and she was gone for no more than a half hour before we found her, but I was devastated. What must it be like to have your child go missing for days? For months? Forever? How do you live with the guilt? How do you carry on? Michelle Richmond tells such a story of one woman in The Year of Fog.

Abby, a photographer, is taking care of her fiancé's six-year-old daughter for the weekend while Jake goes out of town. Walking along San Francisco's Ocean Beach, in the deep fog, Emma runs ahead while Abby takes a photo. In an instant, everything changes, for Emma disappears. A moment's inattention on Abby's part and the whole world falls apart for three people. So the year of fog begins for Abby as she desperately tries to find the child whom she has come to love so dearly.

Written in the first person, Abby's interweaves the story of her relationship with Jake, with her family and her former boyfriend with the year-long search for Emma which follows the usual pattern in missing children's cases. The police lead the search but there's a volunteer group distributing posters, big reward money on offer, along with TV and radio appearances by Jake and his suddenly resurfaced ex-wife. Meanwhile Abby never stop searching the San Francisco area and desperately trying to remember anything from that day that could give them a lead to follow.

After months Emma's shoe is found at a beach and Jake believes that Emma has drowned and holds a funeral service. Abby refuses to accept this and continues the search alone, even consulting a hypnotist to try to draw out any repressed memory of the day. Yes she finds Emma ultimately and the year of fog ends but for everyone life is irrevocably changed.

I found this book quite gripping, although because of the topic it is an intense read. Besides being a well written mystery story, it is also a rather emotional story of the way one family copes with the disappearance of a child. However Richmond also manages to engage us with the other lesser characters in the book, along with the nature of memory, without detracting from the story of Abby's search for Emma. The book has been a well deserved success since it was published in 2007 and Michelle Richmond tells how she came to write this it here.

Fellow Blogpower member, Ellee Seymour, journalist and PR consultant, writes on her blog a continuing series where she highlights stories of missing children of all ages, 78 in all so far. She started it after Madeleine McCann went missing last year and she realized that there were so many others, of all ages, girls and boys, whose disappearances had not necessarily received all the publicity that the McCann case did but brought just as much heartache to their families. Very occasionally she has been able to tell us that the child has been found. Most often she closes her posts with these words:

In memory of those who are still missing.


Ellee Seymour said...

What an interesting book and on a subject close to my heart. I can imagine the fear you felt when you lost sight of your daughter for half an hour.
I shall link to this on post yesterday, and add that line I forgot about being in memory of missing people.
I must say after writing my post yesterday, I went and gave my boys an extra big hug because I felt so lucky to have them close to me.

Dr.John said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for sharing it and your own experience.

Janice Thomson said...

No matter how careful we are it is impossible to keep one's eye on our children every single moment. I lost my son too for a few hours so I know just what you felt. Luckily we lived in a small town where crimes like kidnapping etc didn't happen and he was eventually found but I felt guilty for weeks after. Sounds like a gripping story indeed.

Casdok said...

I have lost my son too for half an hour, i just cant imagine what it would be like for any longer.

Interesting book.

Crushed said...

I was reminded, not sure why, of when we were little, being taught at school never to go with strangers and how strangers might offer you sweets. At the time of course, you didn't really understand. If adults offered you sweets, surely they were nice?

I really think, looking back, it was so hard for us as kids to understand how sinister the whole thing was. I remember asking the teacher why strangers would want to take us away.

My Mum said she used to really have to keep an eye on me as a kid, because I used to go up and talk to anyone. Looking back, I probably was lucky.

Gledwood said...

When I was about 9 or 10 I went "trainspotting" on a bridge. Waving at the trains made them honk. Anyway I'd barely been there 2 mins one day when a man approaches me from the other side of the bridge, knowing my real name and saying he's "come to collect" me.

I just denied I was me and walked home!

Only years and years later did I ever really realize what MIGHT, NEARLY have happened there. And the thought makes me none too happy!

Carver said...

Sounds like an interesting and emotional book. I can hardly fathom what it would be like. I, like you, lost my daughter for about a half hour. As it turned out, she had gotten into my car while I went to the bathroom. This was at home and she was probably around 3. To this day, I never leave my car unlocked.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What a terrifying half an hour that must have been for you, jmb. You describe it well. I can't imagine how parents of children who go missing long-tem cope, either. I don't think I could bear to read this book.

Beaman said...

This post reminds me of a novel I've just finished regarding a missing child. 'Little Face' by Sophie Hannah. Apparently she is a newly discovered British writer and this was her first book. Very good in my view and worth a read.

jmb said...

HI Ellee,
I know you would appreciate this book as it is very well written and the child is found, which so many are not in real life.

Hi Dr John,
Thanks for your comment and your link. My experience was so minor in comparison but heartwrenching just the same.

Hi Janice,
You too can empathize with this person, it's the most terrible feeling in the world, when you cannot account for your child.

HI Casdok,
Even though it was just half an hour, as in my case, I know you must have suffered immeasurably for that time, for I surely did.

Hi Crushed,
Yes it is difficult for a child to understand the dangers, more so these days than ever.
The sad part is that we can no longer make nice gestures to children any more, we can't offer a sweet out of genuine kindness or even smile at a child in the park. Everyone is suspicious now.

HI Gleds,
I'm sure most children have such a story to relate and it's lucky that you escaped easily.

Hi Carver,
I think it is a very good book, well written and dealing with a difficult subject. I'm glad your daughter was safe as mine was. We all seem to have suffered such an event it seems.

HI Welshcakes,
The book is actually easy to read, for it is very well written and of course I had to check the end to see she was ultimately found before I could buy it.

Hi Beaman,
I shall look for this book you are recommending. I have to check if the child is found first however.
If you recommend it as well written I'm sure it is.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

Semaj Mahgih said...

Echo Ellee here.