The Stolen Heart
SEARCH CONTINUES FOR MISSING MT. OLIVE GIRL...FEW LEADS IN SEARCH FOR 11-YEAR-OLD...ABDUCTION CASE IN FOURTH WEEK. NO RANSOM DEMANDS.
Merilee Graf has a lot of baggage left over from childhood, including the nagging mystery of what happened to her fifth-grade classmate. When Lilac Jemson went missing, the adults of Mt. Olive took pains to shield the other children from learning about it --- Merilee's parents among them; in fact, more fervently than most. They avoided talking about it at all costs. To mention it or ask why Lilac wasn't around anymore sent them into a near rage. Why all the secrecy?
Sixteen years passed, and Lilac didn't surface. But Merilee never forgot about her. Now, Merilee returns to her hometown. Her father is gravely ill and she grapples with residual conflicting emotions. Did her father ever really love her? Sometimes he seemed so cold. She believes she was never the daughter he wanted, as her mother was never the wife he wanted. Yet he could --- could --- act warm and caring. Merilee was definitely a daddy's girl, while her mother embarrassed her, sometimes to the point that she wished her mother gone, dead, out of her life. Edith Graf had had some heavy emotional issues to deal with. She was always there for Merilee --- at least until her early demise --- but preoccupied with her own problems for the most part. Was Merilee too harsh in her judgment of her?
While her father lies listless in the local hospital, Merilee brings him personal treasures from the family home, including a heart-shaped magnifying glass that she bought for him one day. It was a special gift, chosen with painstaking care. But he seems less attached to it than she. For her, it is a symbol with a dual meaning, and, when she discovers it's missing after he dies, her mission to find out who took it becomes near obsession. Even the hospital staff starts to grow somewhat hostile toward her endless inquiries about it.
In her search for the missing heart, Merilee reconnects with a brief flame from her past, Roosevelt Jemson --- Lilac's brother. Over a decade and a half later, he still piques her curiosity. What once might have been fizzled before it got started, now they both have some lingering feelings to deal with over it.
Meanwhile, Jedah Graf, Merilee's "uncle," arrives for the funeral services. Never her favorite, Merilee finds herself repulsed and intrigued at the same time. But considering the majority of her relatives, her attraction to Jedah --- a slick, manipulative, but often comforting presence --- might be understandable. Plus, she is weakened by the devastation in the wake of her loss. While Merilee is working through her grief, secrets surface --- secrets no one who has just lost a father should have to face.
Masterfully written, THE STOLEN HEART is not your typical mystery. It's in large part a character study, with a look at the dark side of people. That's no surprise, though, when you discover that "Lauren Kelly" is a pseudonym for Joyce Carol Oates.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 23, 2011