27 May 2019 09:01AM
Sophie Last Seen, by Kingston resident Marlene Adelstein, is a story about grieving that won’t let go. As the novel opens, Jesse Albright is coming apart. Her daughter Sophie disappeared in a mall store six years earlier and hasn’t been seen since. Jesse is drinking too much and she’s become a hoarder. Sophie’s best friend Star is a parallel partner in suffering. She is cutting herself and having hallucinations about Sophie. Time has stopped for them both. They’re not getting on with their lives.
Sophie Last Seen is squarely in the genre of women’s fiction. Adelstein’s two central characters are Jesse and Star, and the story is about their relationship. The novel is skillfully executed: The lead characters feel real and three-dimensional, the author writes economically and stylishly, and the story she tells is engaging. There is sex for reasons right and wrong. There is romance (cue the hunky detective). There is a touch (just a touch) of Nancy Drew as the older and younger woman go off to solve the mystery of the missing child. (For those unfamiliar with the name, Nancy Drew was a shrewd teen sleuth in a series of novels dating back to the 1930s.)
Sophie Last Seen makes a halfhearted wave in the direction of being a detective story, but that’s not really what the novel is about. The whodunit thread—what happened to the child?—is resolved at the end, but in a manner that smacks more of narrative clean-up than of a grand and central resolution. Sophie Last Seen is based on a mystery, but it is only secondarily a mystery novel. It’s a strong, powerfully realized story about two women’s suffering and how they overcome it.