Almost Missed You is a triangulated tale built around friendship, romance and betrayal. It’s also about happenstance and fate.
The story bounces between the present and a not-too-distant past, but it doesn’t remain in either dimension long enough to really allow readers to make an emotional connection with the characters. Instead, there’s a voyeuristic quality as the reader watches the drama unfold.
This is Jessica Strawser’s debut novel. And as such, it is promising. The tale is well-written and complex. Strawser explores the randomness of meetings that leads to important relationships as well as the dark and manipulative side of friendship. She has the ingredients for a rich narrative, but she falls short.
The story is essentially about the falsehoods of life, marriages without love and friendships without trust and how people can ignore the signs of these relationships. But Strawser tends to tell readers about the relationships, rather than provide insight on the characters’ emotional journeys.
The narrative is built around Finn’s decision to walk out on his marriage while on vacation. There’s no explanation, no note — he just takes his young son, Bear, and leaves his wife behind. Finn is that guy, the everyman who plods hopelessly through life, sometimes wreaking havoc without even realizing what he’s doing.
His reasons are more convoluted than complex and that’s where the story falls short. Finn is introduced in dribs and drabs, as are the other characters — his wife, Violet; the woman he loved and lost, Maribel; and Claire, Finn’s best friend since college.
Snatching a child from a devoted parent, even if it’s by the other devoted parent, is gut-wrenching for all involved, especially the child. Strawser tells readers about the interactions between Finn and Bear after the abduction and notes the child’s confusion and anxiety about his mother. But the full-out tantrums and meltdowns are left to the reader’s imagination, along with Finn’s reaction.
Violet returns to the hotel room where Bear is supposed to be napping and realizes her family is gone. The scene is told to readers, more than it’s shown to them. Violet walks into the hotel and — bang — notices Finn’s stuff is missing and falls apart. The gut-wrenching moment of discovery is missing from the narrative.
In opting for this approach, Strawser denies readers key opportunities to connect to her characters emotionally. Rather than provide a rich scene of discovery, much of the emotion of the moment is conveyed through Claire, as she recalls rushing to Violet’s side. Of course, Claire’s account is somewhat watered down because of her angst about this being the first time she left her young twins behind.
Finn’s relationships with Maribel and Violet revolve around chance. Finn and Violet meet on a beach and get swept into a crisis before they can exchange information. He runs an ad in Craigslist and Maribel answers.
She’s obviously not Violet, and Finn isn’t whom Maribel is looking for either. Nevertheless, they connect. The relationship between Finn and Maribel is the story’s strongest pairing. Finn’s grief and anger over her death are key elements of the story. Because that grief is the catalyst for Finn’s betrayal of Violet, it should be palpable, but it’s not.
Almost Missed You will engage readers, but it lacks the emotional punch to stay with them. Still, based on such a strong debut, Strawser is sure to deliver in the future.
Almost Missed You
☆☆☆ (out of five)
By Jessica Strawser
St. Martin’s Press, $25.99