Sunday, July 31, 2011

In Search of Rose Notes: A stand-alone Connecticut based accidental detective story

In Search of the Rose Notes
Emily Arsenault
July 26, 2011

Emily Arsenault's In Search of the Rose Notes is about memory, how the past impacts the present, how the mistakes and conceits of a bunch of kids and teenagers change their lives as adults, and of course about the mysterious disappearance and death of one of them, the eponymous Rose.

The story is told in the first person. It is narrated by the formerly troubled Nora, who grew up seemingly sane and left the insular Connecticut town once she went to college. Her rich, gifted, and somewhat creepy childhood friend, Charlotte, grew up to be a teacher in their high school. The story takes place both in the past- in 1990 when Nora and Charlotte were in 6th grade and Charlotte's baby sitter Rose disappeared, 5 years later when they are 16, around prom time, and in the present, when Rose's bones are found buried in a wicker basket.

Nora is likable; Arsenault does not depict her as an unreliable narrator but rather a flawed but reasonable person facing the secrets and miseries of the past. I found her easy to identify with: Troubled teenage years turning into a reasonably respectable adulthood; friends with Charlotte, who is more popular and gifted; observing all the mores of the stupid little town.

The death of Rose, who is beautiful and a wise-cracker, is told in the first chapter with the discovery of her bones. The only mystery is "whodunnit". You are hoping for no "Lovely Bones" horror - and thankfully there is none of that. There are several people that might have done it and the story is well plotted. Nora does find out who after some fairly inept investigation. The voyage into the past is interesting. I really enjoyed the description of the Time-Life books on the occult and hidden knowledge. I think I remember reading those. Pretty amusing stuff I guess finding out the hidden truths behind the ordinary is part of of a lot of people's adolescence.

Rose Notes was well written and kept my attention even though I read some it in a car on my way back from Maine. Now I look forward to reading her  first novel, The Broken Teaglass, about clues to a past crime in a new edition of a dictionary.

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