Stevie Carroll's Reviews > How Quickly She Disappears

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann
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Previously reviewed on The Good, The Bad, and The Unread:

I was hoping for great things from this book. Set in the wilds of Alaska, as the US teeters on the brink of entering World War II, a decades-old mystery might at last have a solution. And it all begins with the arrival of the mail. Elizabeth Pfautz moved to Tanacross with her husband John and their daughter Margaret, when John took up a post at the local school. Elizabeth feels isolated as one of the very few people of German descent in a mostly indigenous population, and this is further exacerbated both by her staying home to educate Margaret, having previously been a school teacher, and by the ever-increasing anti-German sentiments displayed by her neighbours as a result of the continuing hostilities in Europe.

As our story begins, Elizabeth and Margaret are at home by themselves since John is away on business. Both are anticipating the arrival of the weekly mail plane, since Elizabeth has ordered a chemistry set for her daughter. When Elizabeth goes out to examine her deliveries, she finds that the mail plane is still there, undergoing repairs from an unfamiliar pilot. The man introduces himself as Alfred Seidel, a fellow German, and imposes himself upon Elizabeth as her guest until his plane is once again airworthy, Elizabeth’s house being one of the few in the town to have a spare room.

Alfred quickly ingratiates himself into the household, although both Elizabeth and the neighbouring community are suspicious of his motives. Their fears are proved justified, when Alfred kills one of their number in a seemingly motiveless attack. Elizabeth feels a measure of guilt that her not-exactly-welcome guest could murder a man she has come to regard as a friend, and it seems that some in the town also blame her. While Alfred is awaiting trial, he writes to Elizabeth and reveals that he already knew something of her past before arriving in town. He claims to know the whereabouts of Elizabeth’s twin sister, who disappeared when the two girls were eleven years old and living in Pennsylvania.

Somehow, Alfred has contrived to leave proof of his story in Elizabeth’s house, and as his letters continue, he begins to ask her to supply personal items of her own, if she wishes to hear more of his story. Eventually, his demands place Elizabeth and her family in danger, and Elizabeth is forced to fight with all her strength to protect those around her.

Although some of the descriptions in this book were very vivid, I found Elizabeth difficult to warm to as a person, not helped by the fact that the flashbacks to her childhood, in the days leading up to her sister’s disappearance, were told in the second person, a conceit that very rarely works for me. I also experienced a disconnect from her reactions to Alfred’s requests and the readiness with which she went along with them. Although the book’s ending showed some of her greatest strengths, that did little to drag the book up in my estimations.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 12, 2020 – Shelved
January 12, 2020 – Shelved as: reviewed-elsewhere
January 12, 2020 – Finished Reading

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