In the usual course of things, when I'm reading something to be reviewed, it's a rush. Whether it's good or bad, I read quickly, write the review and move on. So many books, so little time. And one of these days, I will probably come back and read again. But when I put down The Trouble with Charlie by Merry Jones, I went back to the beginning and started over. Why? Because our POV character, Elle, is an unreliable narrator of a unique kind.
Imagine a story that might have been told by Shirley Ardell Mason, the real life character behind the many-personaed character Sybil. That's not to say Elle is Sybil. Elle is definitely just herself. For us, Elle's story begins as her husband dies. Okay, that's not the exact first moment-we meet her reading the obituaries, and then out at a club. But then her soon-to-be-ex dies. Dies on her couch. Dies on her couch with her knife in his back. Dies while they are divorcing but not yet divorced. Dies, leaving an empty space in her life and her memory.
One of the things that is so intriguing about this book is that we are riding along in Elle's head, in such an intimate way. True to the first person form, we don't know what she doesn't know, and we are also riding along as she tried so figure out what is happening. (Trust me—a lot is happening.)
Supporting her in everything with complete faith are her three lifelong friends, each clearly drawn: Susan the baking lawyer, Becky the nightclubbing kindergarten teacher, and Jen the acronym-spouting (rich) housewife. The foursome has been a fixture since their school days; and you may well see your own girlfriends in their faces and hear them in their voices. And did I mention Charlie's ghost? Or maybe ghost? It's so hard to tell…
Yes, one appeal is that Elle has a distinctive voice, but also Merry Jones has a way of giving us Elle's perspective of what happened, even while she's not sure of it herself. Retracing her steps. Rethinking what happened. Integrating new developments. Reassessing past events. Rarely have I ever seen a character with so much back story who talks to us completely in the now. And when I went back to that first chapter to read again, it wasn't to see how the author did it (which the writer in me might do) but to go back to see what happened again. It wasn't clinical or mechanical. I just wanted to ride the suspense roller coaster again but with binoculars on, after I knew what happened. It's a well written book and a fascinating tale. The Trouble with Charlie has won me over, and now I can't wait for the next Merry Jones.