Book Review

The Fall of Lisa Bellow - Susan Perabo

One day, Meredith Oliver stops into the local Deli Barn for an after school root beer. The only other customer is Lisa Bellow, her eighth-grade nemesis and certified mean girl. A masked man walks in with a gun, robs the place, and kidnaps Lisa on his way out the door. Meredith is left behind.

The double narrative that develops in the wake of this crime is a mystery story that asks not so much “who done it,” but “what the hell does it all mean, anyway?” As survivor guilt turns to obsession, Meredith descends into a kind of underworld of radical introspection, and her mother Claire is compelled to follow. Her brother and father wave their arms and shout from the Stygian banks, well meaning, but useless. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. It is a dark journey, and despite the hellfire flashes of wit, one begins to have serious doubts that things will end well.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to resist the pull of these characters. The novel begins with Meredith telling her reflection, “This is me. This is really me. … This is my real life.” The uncertainty belied by these affirmations is no doubt the prerogative of every teen crossing the liminal wilds of adolescence. Who is she and what does she want from life? The trauma of seeing her enemy--snatched away in broad daylight--denied the opportunity to ask these very questions, only intensifies their urgency.

Claire meanwhile grapples with the prerogative of every former teen who has survived to adulthood: a dawning realization that the liminal wilds go on and on. To each age, a new set of anxieties. For Claire, parenting Meredith is akin to scaling “the flat face of a mountain range...without ropes, without safety equipment, and without a canteen and power bars.” Of course, she has other problems too: marital discontent, the ghost of her mother, a stubborn son bent on breaking his own heart.

Perabo writes with great compassion for her characters, even when their own compassion is failing. There are no innocent bystanders in this story, but aside from the kidnapper, there are no real villains either. For a novel that prizes interiority, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is never ponderous or dull. It offers that rare combination of keen writing that is eminently accessible and at the same time worthy of close reading--a real accomplishment.