Susan Perabo’s new novel, “The Fall of Lisa Bellow,” follows one family’s nightmare and the heartbreaking, frustrating, and anguished effects it has on their lives. Across generations and class lines, this story has something for everyone.
Meredith Oliver and Lisa Bellow have almost nothing in common despite the daily instances of ignoring each other at their junior high lockers. In fact, deep-thinker Meredith considers Lisa her nemesis. Super-popular queen bee Lisa doesn’t consider Meredith at all. Then one fateful moment links them forever. They are both in the local sandwich shop when a masked gunman’s robbery turns into a kidnapping, and only one of the girls is left behind.
The fallout from the abduction of Lisa Bellows is everything in their community. Her squad is devastated, obvs. Lisa’s mother is desperate and a little creepy. Lisa’s best friend and her boyfriend believe she’s dead. If only they could find closure. As the days drag on, the only one with any connection left is the least likely, Meredith.
Susan Perabo also has published two collections of short stories, ‘Why They Run the Way They Do’ and ‘Who I Was Supposed to Be.’
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Meredith wants to disappear, especially from her mother, Claire, and be left alone. She drifts further and further away, from her friends, her parents, even her brother, with whom she’s always shared a special bond. That is until Lisa’s friends unexpectedly embrace her. They bring her into their group like she’s their Lisa stand-in.
Moreover, Lisa’s mother seems obsessed with Meredith, also clinging to her like she’s Lisa. Lisa may have been the most popular girl in school, but she had a less-than-perfect home life. She was being raised by a single mom who got pregnant by her high school boyfriend, a man Lisa never met. Her mother lives her life vicariously through Lisa, which of course she hates. Lisa definitely wanted out, so much so she seemed to be following in her mother’s footsteps.
The odd woman out in this story is well-intentioned Claire. All she wants is to make sure her daughter is really all right, but Meredith seems to be determined to shut her out. They cannot find any common ground. Claire feels helpless and always under attack, not just from Meredith but also from her son, her husband and society. The classic parent-teen struggles are magnified under the scrutiny and stress of their unique family drama. Claire walks such a fine line between acknowledging what is normal fallout and teen angst, and what might be deeper damage to her daughter from the tragedy.
Author Susan Perabo is writer in residence and professor of English and creative writing at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
Perabo builds the suspense about Lisa’s fate through Meredith’s channeling into Lisa’s world. Meredith seems to be able to not only see, but interact with Lisa throughout her abduction. The agony and grief Meredith feels for being the survivor is intense. She copes with trying to find a new normal without the benefit of any closure from the fear and guilt left after that horrible day.
The connection between Meredith and Lisa is compelling, if not confusing. Is there really a way for Meredith to save Lisa? Did Lisa save Meredith that day? Things definitely change for the better at school for Meredith as she climbs the social ladder that was never even available to her before. But by taking those steps she’s saving herself and little by little letting Lisa go. She’s erasing Lisa, if not replacing Lisa. Who does that? Even the most self-absorbed teen wouldn’t really use a missing girl to gain popularity, even if everyone is making it so easy. Meredith must figure out just how far she’ll go.
And poor Claire must figure out how to save her daughter, her family and herself from this downward spiral. Her side of the story is so honest, it’s every parent’s nightmare. How much is too much? Can you hold on and let go at the same time? If it’s the only way to keep your daughter, you’ll find a way.
The Fall of Lisa Bellow
☆☆☆ (out of five)
- By Susan Perabo
- Simon & Schuster, $25.99