By BETH BROWNE
The Hands of Strangers
Michael J. Smith
Main Street Rag, 2011
Read a great novella lately? Neither had I until someone gave me a copy of Michael F. Smith’s The Hands of Strangers. I picked it up and could not put it down. And best of all, I only had to neglect my family for one day because the book is only 123 pages long.
I was hooked from the first page, which is subtly rife with tension, although I was nervous about the premise. As a parent, I can’t stand to read about anything bad happening to a child, and this book is about a child who has disappeared on a school trip and has been missing for two months. But the book is not about what happened to the child; it’s about the parents and how they cope with the disappearance. I was quickly sucked into the parents’ world, the ceaseless fretting and the endless search, the hope and the despair.
The book is a masterful view into the lives and the relationship of the parents, Estelle and Jon, as they post flyers and pray for the return of 9-year-old Jennifer. Smith’s prose is crisp and ripe with details, and the tension created by the scenario of the missing child keeps you turning the pages. The emotional insights, such as this gem, are keen:
“(Jon’s) co-workers can’t figure out how to treat him. Too normal and they risk apathy. Too sympathetic and they become patronizing. What he gets are overly cautious smiles when he’s handed a fax or offered a smoke or asked about something he should have done already. Hidden sympathy in tiny gestures that he appreciates but he would rather them kick a hole in the side of his desk and scream, ‘What the fuck is the world coming to!’”
The tension of the interminable waiting, the inescapable wondering what fate has befallen Jennifer and the terrible strain on Jon and Estelle’s marriage lead to a surprising climax. With a deft hand, Smith guides the reader down gently to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
This brilliantly written little book will keep you well entertained on a summer journey or a trip to the beach. It’s just the right length. And it’s a deal at just $8.
I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more from this very talented writer—at least, I hope so. I can hardly wait for his next book to come out. When it does, my family will just have to get used to being neglected again. Mommy will be busy reading.
>> Click here for more information about The Hands of Strangers, including an excerpt from the book and purchase information.