The Never List
By Koethi Zan
(Pamela Dorman Books, Hardcover, 9780670026517, July 2013, 320pp.)
The Short of It:
Riveting as fiction, but absolutely gut-wrenching given the timing of this novel’s release.
The Rest of It:
Sarah and her friend Jennifer are like sisters. They go to the same college, share the same room and have the same fears. They create a “never” list as a way to protect themselves, but their one slip-up leads to them being kidnapped and when they are held hostage in a cellar with two other women, chained naked to a wall, and slowly starved into submission, Sarah’s memories of that night haunt her. When Jennifer is singled out by their kidnapper, Sarah’s hope fades away. Does anyone survive such a thing?
In this case, yes.
Ten years later, Sarah is living in NYC in a comfortable, well-appointed apartment complete with security and a doorman. She works from home and whatever she needs, she orders because going outside puts you at risk for all sorts of things, and she’d rather stay home. behind her good, solid door. But her kidnapper, Jack Derber, a former psychology professor at the University of Oregon is about to go up for parole and the FBI is in the process of preparing Sarah and the two other survivors for the upcoming hearing. Except, one survivor wants no part of it which puts even more stress on Sarah. And then there’s the fact that Jennifer, her best friend never made it out and reliving those years sends her into a panic attack. Getting regular letters from Derber is not helping either but at the same time, she feels compelled to read them. Hoping and praying to find a clue about Jennifer’s whereabouts.
This book is as dark as you’d expect it to be, but it was especially difficult to read given the real-life abduction case of the women in Ohio. There are many similarities between this story and theirs but this book was written well before their situation even hit the headlines so it’s just pure coincidence that both stories involve three women, held for a long period of time, chained and tortured and somehow, they made it out alive.
I feel the need to split this review up into two sections:
Zan’s handing of the characters is what immediately drew me into the story. Their personalities, their fears and the way they carried themselves after such a horrific event, seemed very authentic to me. That goes for all of the victims involved. The supporting characters? Not so much. They seemed to fit a certain stereotype and I would have liked it better if they hadn’t been so black and white. If they had a bit more depth I would have been more forgiving but they seemed one-dimensional and a tad flat.
The story was compelling and I found myself totally absorbed every time I sat down to read it, but at one point, the story got a tiny bit ridiculous. In my head I remember saying to myself, that would never happen. Unfortunately, that one moment took me right out of the narrative and I became overly critical from that point on. Plus, the ending didn’t seem realistic to me. A sadder, but more realistic ending is what I anticipated so I was a little thrown off by the direction the story took.
That said, I very much enjoyed the first half. It had just enough detail to set your teeth on edge but not enough to turn you off to the story. Most of what happens to these women is left up to your imagination and I was fine with that. I think this is important to note because I know a lot of readers who would prefer not to read about violence against women. The second half was not as enjoyable for me and was a little too pat for my liking, but if given the chance, I’d absolutely read another book by this author.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
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