EXCERPT: Herb says Myra has drowned herself with Charlotte, where the beach is rocky and the tide tinged gray-yellow, its crest effervescent.
At the inn, wind batters the wooden shingles like the ocean thrumming the shore at high tide. The squall sends sand whipping through the air. The pier empties of people, except for the lone fishermen who wear rubber boots and heavy yellow raincoats, casting their lines in turbid water.
Myra and Herb are ensconced in the inn, wrapped in sweaters and crocheted afghan blankets. Occasional guests trickle in, but not often. People visit the Oregon coast in summer.
Myra doesn’t take vacations during the off-season, no matter how many empty winters pass. Charlotte knows her mother is waiting. She lived for the scent of the ocean, for the lacquer of salt on her skin. The crabs hidden under mounds of sand and the starfish in the tide pools enchanted Myra’s youngest child. Myra supposes this is why Charlotte was so attracted to the mystery of the deep dark sea. The waves sweep away an entire pool of living things, but with the next tide, they begin again.
And so, Myra is not particularly surprised when her dead daughter walks in the door.
ABOUT ‘CALL ME ELIZABETH LARK’: Twenty years ago, Myra Barkley’s daughter disappeared from the rocky beach across from the family inn, off the Oregon coast. Ever since, Myra has waited at the front desk for her child to come home. One rainy afternoon, the miracle happens–her missing daughter, now twenty-eight years old with a child of her own, walks in the door.
Elizabeth Lark is on the run with her son. She’s just killed her abusive husband and needs a place to hide. Against her better judgment, she heads to her hometown and stops at the Barkley Inn. When the innkeeper insists that Elizabeth is her long lost daughter, the opportunity for a new life, and more importantly, the safety of her child, is too much for Elizabeth to pass up. But she knows that she isn’t the Barkleys’s daughter, and the more deeply intertwined she becomes with the family, the harder it becomes to confess the truth.
Except the Barkley girl didn’t just disappear on her own. As the news spreads across the small town that the Barkley girl has returned, Elizabeth suddenly comes into the limelight in a dangerous way, and the culprit behind the disappearance those twenty years ago is back to finish the job.
MY THOUGHTS: Don’t go into Call Me Elizabeth Lark expecting a thriller. Yes, there is gunfire and a car chase. But this is not a thriller. A character driven mystery is, to my mind, a more apt description.
Myra has bi-polar. She is a mother who has become untethered by grief and, although she has two other children, her life centres around the missing, presumed dead (by everyone but Myra) Charlotte. Several times in the past she has believed that she has found Charlotte, only to be disappointed. But this time…
Gwen is Charlotte’s older sister. She was ‘looking after’ Charlotte when she disappeared. She believes her mother blames her for Charlotte’s disappearance, and mother and daughter don’t seem to connect at all. She overcompensates by being the ‘perfect mother’ to her daughters, and she is rigidly in control of her life as if that will make up for her mother’s flakiness. Jimi, the youngest, and only son, never knew Charlotte. He was born after she disappeared, but he has lived his life in her shadow.
Into their lives arrives Elizabeth and her five year old son Theo.
There are a lot of things I liked about Call Me Elizabeth Lark. The first is the cover, which is absolutely beautiful, but has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. I love the way Elizabeth is torn between wanting to give her son a wonderful home with the Barkley family, and not wanting to cause them any more pain than they have already endured. Similarly I love the way the author has depicted motherhood, the pressures to do it better than anyone else, the uncertainties, the doubts, the insecurities. I also love the way she has portrayed the intricacies of marriage, the give and take, the compromises, the flare-ups, the betrayals, the forgiveness, the stand-offs.
The mystery carried me along beautifully until almost the end of the book, when everything became overly dramatic and, dare I say it? – faintly ridiculous. The ‘white room’ in which several of the characters are held, the confrontation when he could have just ‘disappeared’ his captives, and the gunfight at the Okay Corral. All a bit OTT and unnecessary.
Yes, it does get a bit messy in places, but mostly I liked this read. The author has a great talent for getting to the essence of her characters. I will definitely be putting my name down to read whatever she comes up with next.
Also available as an audiobook.
‘Life is messy. Decisions are complicated. And dammit, you can’t change the past.’
#CallMeElizabethLark #NetGalley #melissacolasanti #crookedlanebooks
#contemporaryfiction #crime #familydrama #mentalhealth #mystery
THE AUTHOR: Melissa Colasanti is a mother and an author. She has a BFA in fiction from Boise State University. Her writing has appeared in Lithub, Memoir Magazine, The Coffin Bell Journal and others. She is the Stephen R. Kustra scholar in creative writing for 2019, and was awarded the Glenn Balch Award for fiction in 2020. (Amazon)
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Crooked Lane Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Call Me Elizabeth Lark by Melissa Colasanti for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com
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