My mum used to tell me that the night before you had your first child was the last worry-free night’s sleep you would ever have.
Given that she could lose sleep over my school shoes being too tight (let alone what my older sister used to get up to when she was young), I can quite believe it – but I have never been much of a worrier and I think I’ve managed quite a few untroubled nights over the past seven years.
On May 15 1980, six-year-old Alex Selky kisses his mother goodbye, skips down the steps of the family’s New England home, turns the corner to walk the two blocks to his school and disappears apparently off the face of the earth.
It’s one of those scenarios the thought of which sends a shudder up and down your spine, but what is brilliant about Beth Gutcheon’s book is the all too believable imagination of how it plays out afterwards.
The mother’s conviction in her belief that Alex is still alive is unshakeable as days, weeks and months go by – and the initial sympathy fades, along with the support of her friends, allies and even (or perhaps especially) her ex-husband. Enough is enough, she is seemingly being told. Your son is dead, you need to get on with your life and stop embarrassing yourself. It is, I’m sure, what would happen in those circumstances – but as a mother I’m sure equally impossible to accept.
I was absolutely engrossed by this book – another brilliant read from Persephone. I loved the characters, the relationships, the mother’s determination to defy the wisdom of the world around her, the suspense…and the ending.
And then I gave my copy to my mum, just to make absolutely sure she doesn’t get any worry-free nights any time soon!