Review

The Moment She Was Gone

by Ed McBain



It's hard to believe that Evan Hunter's literary career is on the
verge of reaching the half-century mark. THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE was
published in 1954 and was a groundbreaking novel; it's as relevant
today as it was then. Since then he's written books like LAST
SUMMER and COME WINTER, books with quietly disturbing characters
who are not entirely sympathetic, books that hold paper mirrors up
to their readers and make them flinch a bit. Under the name Ed
McBain he's basically defined the genre of the police procedural
thriller with his 87th Precinct novels, and a couple of years ago
he collaborated with, well, he collaborated with himself on a novel
titled CANDYLAND. Interestingly enough, as he demonstrates with THE
MOMENT SHE WAS GONE, he still has tales to tell, and tell
well.

One of characteristics of Hunter's books is that he more often than
not breaks one of the rules of Western literature by presenting
protagonists who are never really likable. He continues that
tradition in THE MOMENT SHE WAS GONE with Andrew Gulliver. Gulliver
is an undistinguished English teacher, a cog in the New York City
school system, whose life is an interlude between crisis episodes
involving his twin sister, Annie. Annie, as is immediately obvious
to everyone but her family, is quite, quite ill. As THE MOMENT SHE
WAS GONE unfolds, the reader is made privy to Annie's history and,
along the way, the sidereal history of her family as well. And what
is demonstrated here is that it isn't just Annie who has problems.
Each and all of them --- brothers Andrew and Aaron, mother Helene
--- are, in their own way, in need of medical attention. Their
difficulties simply are not as dramatic as are Annie's. As is said
so well in THE MOMENT SHE WAS GONE, madness does not run in the
family; it gallops through.

Annie's illness manifests itself through her sudden absences,
sometimes for periods of several months. Her reappearance usually
occurs in exotic locales; her last disappearance ended with her
hospitalization in a mental hospital in Italy, where she was placed
after relating an apparently untrue tale of rape and abduction. THE
MOMENT SHE WAS GONE begins with Annie's latest disappearance, with
family being summoned together yet once again to try to find her.
Her history is related in flashback form by Andrew, who in
reviewing Annie's history, demonstrates that the family, in their
denial of her condition, has enabled her to do without treatment
for too long, and that her latest crisis may well be her last. As
Andrew thinks about what has gone before, he struggles with the
question of where Annie may have gone, confronting at the same time
uncomfortable truths about himself. Hunter, meanwhile, very subtly
demonstrates how this state of affairs came to be. Annie's
situation is not all that different from others of her age and
station. Lack of responsibility for actions, still relying on
elderly parents for support...what does that say? And about whom?
Hunter really provides no answers --- the questions are rhetorical
in any event --- and perhaps, none are needed.

THE MOMENT SHE WAS GONE is darkly comedic in some places, sadly
dramatic in others. Hunter, as always, surprises with the
unexpected ending that leaves the reader wondering and, perhaps,
worrying. What is most noteworthy about this work is that it
demonstrates that Hunter's edge, and talent, remain as sharp and
incisive as they were almost 50 years ago.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Moment She Was Gone
by Ed McBain

  • Publication Date: July 17, 2002
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 074323748X
  • ISBN-13: 9780743237482