Book of the Week: After Her – Joyce Maynard

Maynard has had a long and varied writing career starting with the article “An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life” for the New York Times Magazine in 1972. She surprised readers with her memoir, At Home in the World, which chronicles her affair with J. D. Salinger and wrote To Die For which became the Gus Van Sant film of the same name.

While I knew her work by reputation, I first read her 2009 novel Labor Day, an unnerving, dreamlike, suspenseful coming-of-age novel that was an Indie Next bestseller and widely praised with comments like this from NPR:

“[A]n unexpected examination of how character determines not only destiny, but also family…Some readers will simply see Labor Day as an upbeat version of Cape Fear, a book that alternates between despair and delusion even more than Adele. But apart from being a successful thriller, this book is a fascinating portrait of what causes a family to founder, and how much it can cost to put it back on the right path.”

Maynard followed that up with The Good Daughters which was again met with great success in the Indie world, terrific advance reviews and great coverage like this from People: Maynard’s spare prose packs a rich emotional punch…a can’t put-it-down mystery.”

After Her gives us another suspenseful, character-driven story. The backdrop derives from a true story—a string of serial killings in Marin County, CA in the 1970s. Sisters Rachel and Patty live in the area where the “Sunset Strangler” starts terrorizing the community; the girls’ father is a homicide detective working the case. What I like about Maynard is how she takes that notorious story and pushes it to the background. In the foreground is the story of these young sisters dealing with their parents’ divorce and their father, defeated by the case he never cracks. Years later when Rachel is an adult the case that has haunted her family life becomes terrifyingly real once again.

After Her will be a September Indie Next Pick and I have no doubt that we’re going to see the same glowing reviews we’ve seen for Maynard’s previous books. Given her track, lots of the majors have already signed on to cover this: the NYT, Harper’s Bazaar, O, Good Housekeeping, People, Associated Press, Elle, Real Simple and the Washington Post.

Maynard captures the way that memory works in fragments: Rachel recalls ‘My Sharona’ as the soundtrack of the summer, fusing her perspective with that of the killer, who sings it to his victims. Her retelling also flip-flops seamlessly from her teenage anxieties to the front-page news—a testament to Maynard’s narrative dexterity. This cinematic coming-of-age murder mystery satisfyingly blends suspense with nostalgia.”
Publishers Weekly

“Joyce Maynard has, again, managed to tap flawlessly into the voice of a teenage girl–part hope, part fiction, and all heart. After Her is page-turning mystery, wrapped in a beautifully rendered story of sisterhood; and reading it is a journey through one’s own memory of what it meant to be thirteen, when the world was equally terrifying and fascinating. Books this compelling just don’t come around very often.”
— Jodi Picoult

2 thoughts on “Book of the Week: After Her – Joyce Maynard

  1. Kate……………everytime I read one of your reviews I want to read the book. I hope Harper is aware of your genius. Never doubt the effectiveness of these emails. I love reading them. Mary Ellen

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