- Review by Molly Odintz
Journalist, novelist and long-time Austinite Amy Gentry joins us here at the store this Thursday, July 28th, at 7 PM to speak and sign her debut thriller, Good As Gone. Her debut takes the reader into a torn family coping with the still-unsolved disappearance of their eldest, a decade before. When a young woman with a fantastical tale comes knocking on their door, they work to accept her as their long-lost daughter, yet holes quickly appear in her story, and questions remain as to her identity and her past.
Gentry splits her narrative between the matriarch of the family, Anna, and her reclaimed child, Julie, as they tip-toe around issues of trauma, identity, acceptance and return. Anna’s perspective follows a linear path through the novel; Julie’s perspective is told backwards, with a rotating cast of character names, teasing the reader through much of the novel as to who “Julie” might be, and what role, exactly, Julie played in her own kidnapping. While Gentry’s debut passes Alison Bechdel’s simple test for feminism in fiction (Does a named female character speak to another named female character about a subject other than men?), the many names of “Julie” bring out another side to the named female character – she can be named, over and over again, by those attempting to control her, and with each new name, the core of her identity becomes further separated from any marker as changeable as a name.
In an interview with the Daily Texan conducted while Gentry was writing the novel, she discussed the pervasive presence in crime fiction of “the mythical ‘good victim’…[who] does all the socially acceptable things: She isn’t sexually active, she’s assaulted by a stranger and she immediately goes to the police.” For her novel, Gentry wanted to write “a real victim,” who responds to her trauma in messy, complicated, and realistic ways. In the character of Anna, Amy Gentry has also eschewed the archetype of the “good mother” – Anna resents her youngest child for her failure to sound the alarm at Julie’s disappearance, and struggles to quell her doubts about grown-up Julie’s identity and actions. Skepticism and survival clash with honesty and trust for a conflicted and complex cast of characters.
Houston, and the overwhelming scale of its megachurches, 26-lane-highways, and sprawling cityscape adds a spatial dimension to the novel’s themes of alienation, escape and powerlessness; the novel confirms Houston as the perfect noir setting, combining the dinginess of the Northeast, the strip-mall-sprawl of the West, and the dirty secrets and genial hypocrisy of the South. Good as Gone also confirms the entrance of a powerful new voice in the world of crime fiction – Gentry knows crime fiction as a critic and as a writer, and brings her experiences with her for a novel that is as playful and self-aware in its structure as it is responsible in its themes.