- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Scribner (July 10 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1501190881
- ISBN-13: 978-1501190889
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #932,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Half Moon Bay: A Novel Hardcover – Jul 10 2018
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A “brooding suspense novel…dark, starkly beautiful…LaPlante uses a seductively dangerous landscape to mirror her heroine’s inner life.” (Kirkus)
“This well-crafted novel of psychological suspense will appeal as much to mainstream fiction readers as genre fans.” (Publishers Weekly)
About the Author
Alice LaPlante is an award-winning writer whose bestselling books include Half Moon Bay, A Circle of Wives, Method and Madness—The Making of a Story, and the New York Times bestseller Turn of Mind. She taught creative writing at Stanford University where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and in the MFA program at San Francisco State University. She lives with her family in Mallorca, Spain.
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Jane is very emotionally wounded. She has moved to the small town of Half Moon Bay from San Francisco. She has found work at a nursery, but avoids people as much as possible. When young children start to go missing in Half Moon Bay, she becomes a suspect. You see, her own daughter died in San Francisco.
I chose to listen to Half Moon Bay. The reader was Gabra Zackman. She did an excellent job capturing Jane's confusion, fogginess and grief with her interpretation of LaPlante's character. Her voice is measured, easy to understand and well modulated. Zackman has a nice gravelly tone to her voice that makes it quite pleasant to listen to. Listen to an excerpt of Half Moon Bay.
So great narrator, but for me the book was a miss. A wounded, unreliable lead is a great addition to a mystery. But Jane's inner monologues go 'round and 'round to the point where I got quite bored of her angst. This rambling discourse had me tuning out. Jane's 'oddness' is reiterated over and over again, punctuated by two other workers at the nursery. Adam is just as odd, so of course the listener suspects him as well. Honestly, I could not buy Adam's attraction to Jane at all. And Jane's attraction and relationship with also newly transplanted to Half Moon Bay couple Edward and Alma. Sorry, big what the heck, ugh and really? The final ending and 'whodunit'? Telegraphed well in advance. And the reason? Sorry, can't buy that either.
The cover is great and the descriptions of Jane's plants and the physical settings were well done. But overall? Sorry, I can't recommend this one at all.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I was quite surprised therefore, to read so many critical reviews of Half Moon Bay, many having to do with dislike for the protagonist, Jane, who is slowly moving through the quicksand of grief, after losing her only daughter. I can’t help wondering that if the protagonist was male, readers would be more forgiving of the poor decisions, sexual restlessness, and self-destructive bent we see in Jane. Can’t a woman’s grief manifest as raw and dangerous?
The plot of Half Moon Bay creates the perfect amount of suspense and intrigue that makes it a page turner. After the death of her daughter, Jane moves from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay where, as other reviewers have described, a series of abductions and murders muddle her attempts to become mentally and emotionally healthy. Her grief is further complicated by the mixed feelings she had about being a mother in the first place, and the losses a parent incurs with each stage of a child’s life until and unless the child emerges out the other side into adulthood. Jane behaves erratically and makes choices that put her safety and well-being at risk. It’s a gritty process. She basically comes apart at the seams and can barely get through the day. She latches onto a shady couple who show up in town and who obviously see Jane as someone they can manipulate.
But Jane’s extended grief and disintegration into depression is commonly seen in the aftermath of tragedy, and may even be essential to transformational change. As I read the story I kept thinking Jane was, to paraphrase Christopher Robinson from Winnie the Pooh, "Braver than she believes, stronger than she seems, and smarter than she thinks."
LaPlante’s mastery of the craft of writing is evident. Her characters are compelling and multi-dimensional, her syntax sublime, her dialogue essential to the story. Consider this exchange between Jane and Sheree, a transgender person Jane meets in a movie theater in San Francisco:
“I lost someone.
A year ago.
Oh, sweetie, that’s like yesterday.
It’s like last hour.
Have you noticed how much grief is like fear?”
Grief is personal and doesn’t follow anything that resembles a typical pattern. Half Moon Bay illuminates the depth and breadth of grief and the mental landscape of a mother making her way back to herself in the aftermath of a terrible loss.
Plant whisperer Jane, who turns 40 over the course of the book, has left Berkeley and moved to the coast after the death of her teenaged daughter Angela and her husband's desertion. Alone in a cottage near Half Moon Bay, she communicates primarily with the plants she nurtures and is prone to middle-of-the-night rambles through the fog. Apart from the recent tragedies, she's got a tormented back story, abused and bullied as a child, and her PTSD has taken destructive forms.
Unable to connect with the key people in her life, including the gentle cafe workers who serve her coffee and her colleagues Helen and hunky Adam, she is all too easily sucked into a relationship with a beautiful couple, Edward and Alma. Apart from their charm, attractive appearance, and political passions, these people have RED FLAG written all over them. It's frustrating to see Jane become totally enmeshed with both.
Meanwhile, little girls are disappearing, and Jane is at the top of everyone's list. She lost a daughter, she's weird, she's behaved irrationally. She's such an obvious suspect that it's pretty clear she is innocent -- but she's also an unreliable narrator, and if not Jane, then who? That mystery drives the plot forward.
Issues with the book, that may or may not dissuade you from giving it a look.
* The dialog is all in italics, giving it a breathy, surreal quality. But then, most of Jane's conversations with others, whether cops or colleagues, seem borderline surreal. That's just who she is.
* Jane's dismal trajectory. Is there a reason that LaPlante had to make her a lifelong loser? The book would have been far more effective if she'd been a normal person brought down through tragedy rather than a pathetic victim.
* A HUGE plot hole that becomes even more apparent in the penultimate sections of the book.
If you're local, like me, you may have fun seeing familiar locations. Pretty sure I've been to Smithson's Nursery, where Jane works, and I recognize the beaches and some of the cafes There's even an allusion to Vinod Khosla and his ongoing beach wars. However, I cringed every time she referred to "route" 1 or 92 or 84. No one uses "route." We say "highway" or just call them by their numbers ("the beach that's a mile down 1 south of Half Moon Bay"). It also irritated me -- and I realize this will go right past most readers -- that she completely blew the geography at least once. Given that she lived around here, no excuse for that.
As an attention-grabber, this is a five-star read. But the sheer ickiness of the main characters (including Angela, but excluding Helen and hunky Adam) and Jane's ongoing inanity and occasional and inexplicable stupidity kept me from enjoying the book as much as I might have otherwise.