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"Jessica Treadway draws her characters into an impossible knot and then expertly teases apart…kept me up half the night." — Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth
Fans of Reconstructing Amelia will love this pulse-pounding novel of mystery, betrayal, and a small town's dark secrets.
On a cold December day, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is discovered in the woods at the edge of a frozen pond. Her death looks like a tragic drowning accident at first, but an autopsy reveals something sinister — the teenager's body shows unmistakable signs of strangulation. The discovery upends an otherwise uneventful small town, as police grapple with a rare homicide case and those closest to Joy wonder how she could have been taken from them — and by whom. Susanne, Joy's mother, tries to reconcile past betrayals with their wrenching consequences. Martin, an African-American graduate student, faces ostracism when blame is cast on him. Tom, a rescue diver and son-in-law of the town's police chief, doubts both the police's methods and his own perceptions. And Harper, Joy's best friend, tries to figure out why she disappeared from Harper's life months before she actually went missing.
In a close-knit community where everyone knows someone else's secret, it's only a matter of time before the truth is exposed. In this gripping novel, author Jessica Treadway explore the ways in which families both thrive and falter, and how seemingly small bad choices can escalate – with fatal consequences.
Truth, that lasting joy, fills in all that is missing.
Two days after a snowshoeing couple literally stumbled across Joy’s body in the woods at the edge of the pond, the police came to ask Harper questions. It was the first Sunday in December, and her father had gone to work as he often did on the weekends—“to catch up,” he always told them, but Harper believed it was just an excuse to get himself out of the house. There was nothing to catch up on. He supervised production at a jigsaw puzzle plant.
The officers rang the doorbell just before noon. “Get that, will you?” her mother called from her bedroom. “I’m in the middle of a thought.” Harper waited for her brother to go to the door, because he was closer, but he muttered “You do it” and she knew he was afraid to leave his game, so she went to answer the bell herself. When she called back upstairs that it was the police, her mother said to wait a minute, then came down in jeans and a misbuttoned cardigan, her face streaked with makeup she’d obviously rubbed on without looking.
“I’m not sure I want you to talk to my daughter when my husband isn’t here,” she told the interim chief, who had been on the news so often in the past month, since the night they’d conducted the first dive to search for Joy under the ice at Elbow Pond.
“She’s not in trouble, Mrs. Grove.” The chief was standing closer to Harper than to her mother, and his eyes were so blue that Harper thought he must have worn tinted contacts. Armstrong, Harper remembered his name was. The eyes made her just as nervous today as they had the first time, when he came to interview her about Joy’s disappearance. “We’re just trying to piece together what happened that day.”
“I thought you already talked to her about that.”
“Some new information has come to light,” said the other officer, whom Harper remembered from the day they came to arrest Zach Tully at school. He was even older than the chief, and he offered her a lemon drop as he took one out for himself.
Harper declined the candy and told her mother it was fine, she wanted to help, and she sat down on one end of the couch, gesturing for the men and her mother to take seats, too. She could tell that Truman was listening from the dining room—he slapped the cards down on the table more softly than usual—and she could tell that the officers noticed the condition of the tree in the corner, which had been up since before Thanksgiving. Their mother always got what she called an early dose of the Christmas spirit, and every year she managed to persuade Harper’s father to find a tree lot that would sell to them before it officially opened. She spent the whole afternoon decorating, and by the next morning she seemed to have forgotten all about it. The tree was always ready to go out the door in the middle of December, but they kept it around until after New Year’s, when her mother would finally allow the rest of them to undecorate, and her father and Truman carried it to the curb.
Before the questioning could begin, a sudden, random piano chord made them all turn toward the sound in the corner across from the tree, where an old upright sat against the wall. Her mother sucked her breath in and put a hand to her heart. “Get off,” Harper said sharply to the cat, who’d caused the disturbance by jumping onto the keys. Chip leapt down and scrabbled out of the room.
In some ways Harper was sorry the cat cooperated; she would have liked to stall further, if she could. The chief began asking Harper the questions she remembered from the day after Joy disappeared. She grew confused, unsure as to why he wanted her to repeat what she’d told him then. The familiar flush of embarrassment—from not knowing the right thing to say, or from saying the right thing the wrong way—began at her temples, spread down her cheeks to her neck and beyond, to the point that she imagined her lungs and legs bloomed as hot and red as her face. It made her look as if she were lying, she knew. Or at least holding something back.
They asked what she’d seen. She pulled her favorite afghan around herself and watched another needle fall from the dark and dying tree. “I already told you.” Saying this gave her an unfamiliar thrill of defiance and she waited for a rebuke, but the chief only shifted in his seat. Harper elaborated, “Kids skating, mothers standing around.”
They weren’t writing anything down, as Armstrong had the first time. “We’re talking about what you saw at the shack,” the officer sucking the lemon drop said, and though she sensed he was trying to hide his impatience, she heard it come out in a little cluck of his tongue.
She wanted to say Why are you treating me this way? But instead she just blushed some more and said she was sorry.
Armstrong waved at his partner to shut up. He leaned closer to Harper on the couch, and in a tone they all recognized as self-consciously casual, he asked if she had noticed a man with a mask.
“A mask?” All she could think of was Eric Feinbloom trying to pull off the Joker costume at the Halloween party. He’d tried so hard it made Harper’s heart hurt.
“You know, a ski mask. Black, maybe?”
She hesitated. “Black mask or black man?”
He hesitated back. “Both.”
Why that moment before he answered? she wondered. Were they trying to trick her somehow?
But then she saw Lemon Drop touch the gun at his hip (was it a habit, or did he really think he might need to use it, here in their living room?) and pull back in his seat a little. A meek signal to his superior, she thought—they’re not supposed to feed people clues. She had watched enough police shows to understand that.
“There was a black man,” she said.
“Was it this guy?” The chief reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph.
“Yes,” she answered. “That’s him.”
Armstrong asked, “Where was he?” and she saw that they were both trying not to act too excited, which caused the confusion to swell around her like a steadily rising sound. “In the crook? Where we found her?” Everyone who’d grown up around there would know what he was talking about—the crook of the elbow that gave the pond its name.
“No. He was outside the shack, in his car.”
“Just sitting there?”
“And he had a mask on?”
She sensed her mother’s eyes on her, fresh with a focus Harper hadn’t felt in a long time. She nodded again, understanding that she’d just crossed a line she had not seen coming. Before now she’d never known how good recklessness could feel.
“What did the mask look like?”
Harper’s mother leaned forward and said, “You already said it was a ski mask. Is this really necessary?”
The chief ignored her, not even turning her way. “Did he stay there?” he asked Harper. “Or did he drive off?”
“Drove off.” She felt relieved to say it; this part was true.
In a louder voice Harper’s mother said, “Are you almost finished? She just found out her best friend was murdered. Hasn’t she been through enough?”
Again the little electric thrill to Harper’s heart. And again Armstrong persisting as if he hadn’t heard her. “We understand there was an argument,” he said to Harper. “Before you went up to the shack to use the pay phone. Can you tell us what it was about?”
She shook her head. “No,” she said in the small voice she hated but couldn’t seem to grow. This was where she would fail them, she knew. This was where they would get mad. She knew the answer all too well—the argument she remembered better than she wished to—but something (loyalty to Joy? Did it matter if you were disloyal to someone who was dead?) kept her from telling them what she’d seen and heard.
“Really? Why not?” It was a new line of questioning. The first day, when he believed along with everyone else that Joy had drowned, the chief had asked just a few things, acting as if Harper’s answers weren’t important. Now that they knew she’d been murdered, he paid more attention. “Was it about drugs?”
When she looked down at her lap and shook her head again, he sighed. “We were hoping you might do your best to come up with something to help us. If you don’t mind my saying, you don’t seem all that sad about this. I thought she was your best friend.”
Was. Was your best friend. Of course he used the past tense because she was dead, but he didn’t know that the past tense had begun before that.
“Did anyone threaten her? Maybe one of the other girls?”
In her memory, Harper heard Try again, you’ll be sorry. “No. Not threaten.”
Her mother told the officers, “I think that’s enough now.”
They stood and said thank you. In the dining room, Harper heard the familiar sound of Truman scooping up his cards in frustration, because he’d lost again. She watched the officers from the window, grateful that they’d come in a regular car—“unmarked” was the word, she knew from TV. She hadn’t helped at all, she was sure, except that they’d seemed to like it when she agreed with them that she’d seen the black man wearing a mask outside the shack that day.
“Do you want to go somewhere?” she said to her mother. “Maybe Christmas shopping?” Since you’re awake, and dressed, and upright? She knew better, but asked anyway.
“Maybe later.” Her mother gestured toward her bedroom. “I was just trying out a new idea. I should get back to it.” It, Harper knew, was the notebook she kept on her nightstand, which she filled with scribbles before transferring them onto her laptop. In November she’d joined an online group of people who all wanted to write a novel in a month, and except for the night Joy disappeared, she spent most of her time working on what she called a literary thriller, only to throw the notebook away a few days after Thanksgiving and send Truman out for a new one.
“I think I might be on to something this time,” her mother added, heading up the stairs. Truman had dealt himself another game. Alone in the living room, Harper began to straighten the star at the top of the tree, then gave up and let it droop back to its original crooked position. If no one else cared, why should she?
Tom kept the sound on the TV muted because next to him Alison was asleep when the news came on. In the middle of the top story (BREAKING was all the crawl said, as if the item were so momentous it defied detail, which, as it turned out, it was), he made a sharp movement in the bed and Alison woke up murmuring, “What?”
She was already agitated because it was Sunday night, and though she’d been teaching for three years now—not to mention in the same classroom she and Tom had shared for homeroom all through high school—the beginning of a new week always made her nervous. She just wanted to stay home and bake holiday cookies, she said. (“What the hell is a holiday cookie?” her father had asked, and Alison told him it was more politically correct than Christmas. “Oh, for sweet Christ’s sake,” Doug groaned, giving her remark a dismissive wave, and Alison laughed with affection.)
“Hold on,” Tom told her, turning up the volume.
“What is it?” She struggled to raise herself, her flannel nightgown bunching around her chest above the growing moon-bump of her belly. Squinting at the screen, too lazy to grab her glasses from the nightstand, she said, “What is that?”
He shushed her, and they both listened to the end of the report. “That’s not Joy they’re talking about though, right?” Alison asked.
But it was. The girl everyone assumed drowned on Friday the 13th of last month had, in fact, been murdered. The victim of a homicide: autopsy results showed she’d actually died of strangulation, after which the killer dumped her body in the woods.
Tom had almost recovered from the first surprise—where she’d been found. If Joy Enright had never been under the ice, as they’d first thought, what was it that had grabbed him when he went diving for her that night? They’d called it a rescue mission, though on the boat, they all knew the goal was to bring up a body. The ambulance standing by was ready to pull out under Condition White (meaning no need to hurry), not toward the emergency room but the morgue.
But he’d failed at the job, panicking when he thought he felt a hand closing around his wrist. Abandoning the search and telling them all he’d found nothing down there.
By the time he got home that night after finishing all the paperwork, Alison had already heard. “I have her. She’s one of mine,” she whispered, as if she could somehow soften the truth by not giving full voice to the words.
Tom loved how much his wife cared about her students, referring to them as if they belonged to her. Her devotion extended beyond the classroom. Once a week during her lunch hour, she ran an informal discussion group for kids whose parents drank too much or in some other way were falling down on the job. She attended their pep rallies, their field hockey and soccer games. It was not lost on Tom that the compliment Alison seemed to value most was any variation on “I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” How often had he heard her say that her own mother was her role model? He always did his best to look pleased rather than dismayed.
“She’s the smartest kid in school,” Alison added, the night they all thought Joy drowned.
Was she the type who would run away? Tom asked.
“Run away?” Though it was close to midnight, Alison had pulled ice cream from the freezer and started eating it straight out of the container as they turned on the little TV in the kitchen to watch the rerun of the late news. Ice cream was her treat to herself when she was pregnant, and it was sometimes hard for Tom to believe how fast she could go through a carton. “I thought they said she was in the water. And they found her scarf.”
“That’s what they thought, because of the ice break. But maybe she fell through and then managed to pull herself out. Maybe she’s hiding somewhere—embarrassed, scared, I don’t know. It’s possible.” How much he would have liked to believe this, that Joy had never actually been under the ice, and that what he’d felt gripping him around the wrist was a vine or a strong slug of mud.
“She didn’t run away,” Alison had said. “I get why her mother wants to think that, though.” She nodded toward the screen, which showed Susanne Enright, her face contorted in tears, issuing an appeal to anyone who knew anything about what could have happened to Joy. “Let’s face it—she’s a floater.” A cop’s kid, Alison used the cop’s term for a body that rose on its own gases or surfaced in a thaw. And as with a cop, Tom knew, something allowed her to separate the lingo she used from the person she was applying it to.
He’d thought Joy was a floater, too. But three weeks later, here were the news people, telling him that his wishful thinking might have been right: the police now believed that after being murdered, the girl had been in the woods the whole time, despite the fact that the ground had been searched. Instead of hidden under the surface, she’d been right in plain sight, or what should have been plain sight. It happened: sometimes what people were looking for was right in front of them, and they missed it because they were paying attention to something else. In this case, it could have been because the original reports put her under the water, and most people—even the searchers—assumed she was there.
“No.” Alison was watching through her glasses now, her hand pressed to her heart as she spoke directly to the TV. “She wasn’t murdered; she drowned.”
He’d always loved this, too, about his wife: her knack for feeling what it was like to be inside other people. Sometimes she couldn’t shake what took hold of her when she observed or heard about someone suffering, even if she didn’t know the person and even if it was far away in the world.
Tom knew that as she listened to the news report, she did not want to have to imagine her student enduring an assault before dying. In the old days, she would have told him this; she would have wanted to talk about it. But with each miscarriage she’d begun saying less and less, and though he’d done his best to put off realizing it as long as he could, he’d understood for a while now (even before what she did to him at the end of October) that if something didn’t change—and soon—they might never find their way out of the trouble they were in.
He decided not to correct her about the manner of Joy’s death. What was the point? Watching the familiar footage of Susanne Enright begging the public for information about her missing daughter, he recalled the day he’d gone to the family’s house, at Susanne’s request, two days after Joy had last been seen. Susanne appeared not to have slept at all, and her speech came out slow and uncertain, as if she were trying to find the right words in a language she’d only just learned. How would she absorb the shocks she was suffering now? The first had been the discovery of the body two days ago—a blow in itself, of course, because it was obvious that she’d been trying her best to believe that her daughter was still alive. Now that she knew Joy was not only dead, but murdered, how would she react?
Beyond that, who could have done it? Who would have strangled a teenager in a random encounter, after she stalked away from her friends in a fit of fury? No one could have anticipated her behavior that day, or where she’d end up at the moment she encountered whoever killed her.
No, it was more likely that someone had been following her, watching. Waiting for the right moment to pounce and grab. Maybe he (it was always a he) hadn’t meant for her to die. Maybe he just wanted to scare her for some reason. But why?
The anchorwoman reported that Interim Chief Douglas Armstrong had begun a preliminary investigation, and it showed him speaking at a news conference from the six o’clock broadcast. Even though Doug had been in the position for five months, Tom found himself still doing double takes when he saw his father-in-law on TV; the dark cloth of his uniform showed up his blue eyes brighter than in real life, even on the small screen. “Police are looking for a black man seen in the vicinity of Elbow Pond the day Joy Enright disappeared,” the anchorwoman said, her face and voice containing that solemnly ominous tone they all used when they wanted to make it seem they felt personally affected by the stories they read from their scripts. “The man is not being sought as a suspect at this time but as a person of interest.”
A black man seen in the vicinity of Elbow Pond. The words rose to jab Tom under the ribs, and he shoved the covers aside.
“What?” Alison murmured.
“Nothing. You should get some sleep.”
“How can I do that?” She gestured at the TV.
“Just try.” He came back toward the bed and tried to speak in as calm a tone as possible, with all the movement inside his chest.
His impulse was to call Doug right away, but he remembered the first rule he’d been taught in the rescue-dive class: Stop, think, and breathe. Everything he hadn’t done the night the call came in and he was sent down to find the girl. Acting on instinct could lead to freezing, or “passive panic,” if a diver fixated on a single, ineffective plan while overlooking the obvious better ones. He stood in the kitchen, gripping the counter, and after a few minutes, he realized his training had paid off. Instead of picking up the phone, he went out to the truck, where he’d left his notebook in the glove box. Then he headed to wake up his father-in-law, whom he knew would be happy to see him—for once—when he saw what Tom had to offer.
Monday, December 7
I know I shouldn’t care, especially given where I’m sitting, but it matters to me. They keep calling it a journal, smirking as if I’m some teenage girl mooning over a crush. A commonplace book is what my notebook would have been called in the old days. A commonplace book is what I keep.
But it has been confiscated. They’ve given me this pad and a cheap, blunt-pointed pen (Liberty Mutual/We’ve Got You Covered) to use while I’m confined here. I am not technically allowed a writing instrument, the guard told me—I might use it as a weapon on him, my lawyer, or myself—but he is kinder than some of the others, and the fact that I’m an art student (which probably means to him that I am gay) seems to make me less of a threat, despite the reason I’m here.
In my own book, the one they took, I write something every day, even if it’s as mundane as the words Nothing to note. I like the discipline of it, which I know can only help me in my work. Then there are the events I want to remember, and I might spend an hour recording those. Don’t skip the details, Grandee told me when she gave me that first notebook right after my father died, containing my first homemade bookmark. Don’t just write this happened today, or that happened. You think you’ll remember, but trust me, you won’t.
I also use the book to make notes about things I read and to copy down quotes from the great artists (my favorite being Alberti’s assertion that painting makes the absent present and the dead almost alive). It contains the draft of my Artist’s Statement for Souls on Board. I can’t afford to lose anything in there; I want my own book back.
The pad they gave me is a poor substitute for the quality Leuchtturm notebooks I choose for myself. But since I have nothing to do but sit in this holding cell with the man introduced to me as Drunk Dave, who is using a coverless paperback copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear as a pillow, I might as well document the events of today. For all I know, these notes will be confiscated, too, but if they’re not, I’ll have them to look back on. Not that I can imagine wanting to anytime soon, but I might as well, in case.
This morning after my swim, I went up to my attic studio and tuned the radio to Rochester’s classical station. Though we are a hundred miles northeast of the city here, I can usually get it to come in. Someone told me once that hearing a good performance of classical music should make you feel like the top of your head is coming off, and that is how I judge what I listen to. Sometimes I picture the woman who is my mother—Linda Martin—playing the piano at the Eastman School of Music, where my father met her, with the expression of intense absorption I feel in my own face when I’m painting. In front of my easel, I might look up and find that three hours have passed, without my being aware of the world. The space I occupy in that time is reflected in the canvas; my thoughts are shapes and colors, instead of words. I don’t feel hunger, thirst, or any other biological needs; I don’t, with my brush in hand, inhabit a body. Especially this past summer, in the days after Grandee died, I was so grateful to know I could achieve such a state that I almost wept.
In the past few months, since Susanne put an end to things for good, I’ve felt desperate to find that internal place again. But the desperation gets in the way of my simply being able to settle in. (“Desperation is the worst perfume,” Grandee used to tell her single friends who were looking for husbands, and though I have heard the phrase many times in my life and recorded it in my commonplace book, only now do I understand from the inside what it means.)
This morning I had not even had a chance to open my paints when I heard the knock downstairs at the front door, which I mistook at first for the sound of my landlady’s son loading lumber into his truck. When the knock turned into a bang, I went downstairs, pulling a sweatshirt around my GOT ART? tee-shirt, and saw two police officers standing on the stoop. I knew they were officers not because they wore uniforms but because of the smug set of the men’s mouths, which caused my throat to clench. When I opened the door and the younger, Hispanic-looking one spoke my name, I felt the room close in.
“We have a warrant,” added the older of the two, whom I recognized from his constant appearance on the news since Joy’s disappearance and especially since her body was found over the weekend.
- "Jessica Treadway draws her characters into an impossible knot and then expertly teases it apart. The question of what really happened to Joy kept me up half the night."—Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder
- "Treadway combines intense suspense with a smart take on 21st-century adolescence, parenting and justice."—People, "Book of the Week"
- "Sometimes a book pulls you in so deep that it's hard to let go. HOW WILL I KNOW YOU? is such a book. A mystery story, yes, but more than that, a compassionate, wise study of humans under pressure. I read furiously to find out the truth about the central crime, and I read slowly to savor Treadway's many stunning insights. A wondrous book!"—-Robin Black, author of Life Drawing and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
- "An amazingly written and intense novel, an outstanding thriller with a wonderful plot and memorable characters."—BookReporter
- "In this exceptional novel by Treadway, no one is safe from the secrets and lies that prevail in the small town where Joy's body is found...[Treadway's] ability to define meaningful characters stands out, and the ending is a shock."—RT Book Reviews
- On Sale
- Dec 6, 2016
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Grand Central Publishing