Happy Publication Day!
At the height of her popularity, famed feminist photographer Miranda Brand dies of an apparent suicide at her home in Callinas, California, shocking both the town and the art world. Miranda’s husband, Jake, and son, Theo, leave their beach front property, and it remains largely untouched until nearly twenty-five years later when Theo hires former journalist Kate Aitken to archive the papers, photographs, and miscellany left in the house.
Theo and his two children move to Callinas for the summer while Kate relocates from New York City, trying to escape her recent, troubled past. The small, local community ignites with rumors as the two newcomers arrive, many stoked by Kate’s well-meaning but gossipy aunt.
As Kate delves into the assortment of documents, a vibrant picture of Miranda as an artist and woman emerges, and Kate refuses to believe she killed herself. Her records reveal secret jealousies and deeply buried secrets that could be the motive for murder. Kate’s investigation unsettles the residents, and as she becomes more obsessed with Miranda and her final days, her fragile tether to sanity frays, and is only weakened further with an increasing attraction to Miranda’s attractive and brooding son.
I absolutely loved Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar. The novel has everything I love: beautiful writing, provocative themes, fascinating characters, and a scintillating mystery. Kate’s story (written in third person) is peppered with excerpts from the archive she is creating, and this exchange between past and present forms an interesting picture of what Miranda was experiencing versus what people perceived. Sligar also includes descriptions of Miranda’s photography, so clearly rendered I almost expect to be able to find a reproduction. The medium of photography as a surface representation, or, baldly, a “lie” as Jake accuses, further illuminates the constant play between the façade and the reality. Finally, the raw, emotional descriptions of mental illness and its ripple effects resonated with me.
I highly recommend reading this novel; however, I want to temper expectations because realistic expectations equal happier readers. Take Me Apart is less of a thriller than the marketing copy might suggest. I might categorize it as psychological suspense or as a literary thriller, but it is firmly character-driven and in my view, the mystery of Miranda’s death is less central than the questions her death raises for different characters. To put it in context, it is less of a mystery/thriller than Long Bright River (which I also loved).
Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.