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Before You Knew My Name


Before You Knew My Name

Jacqueline Bublitz’s BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is an unusual novel. It is not quite a murder mystery and certainly not a love story.

Alice and Ruby come to New York City on the same date. Alice arrives by bus from Wisconsin with a stolen camera and money she took from her former high school teacher, who offered her a place to stay when she lost her home but then took advantage of her. Ruby arrives from Australia, fleeing a relationship with a man who is engaged to another woman and has no plans to leave her for Ruby. Both ladies hope that they will discover who they are capable of being in New York City and thus find a future.

"BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is filled with sadness and loss. Alice's life, what might have been, is over. Yet we see a possible future for Ruby that will be better."

Unfortunately, as we know from the very start, Alice will die. The story is narrated from her posthumous first person point of view, but that's not to say that Ruby's thoughts and feelings aren't shared as well. We come to understand that both women are fundamentally flawed, and we feel empathy for them. Each was used by a man they trusted, and each arrives in the Big Apple with a plan to work on a brighter future. Only one will get to realize that future, as Alice is killed while jogging early one morning. Ruby is also a runner, and she is the one who finds Alice's body.

For much of the story, we are the only ones who are aware of the identity of the dead woman. Alice points out that it bothers her when authorities call her "Jane" since they don't know her real name. Ruby is troubled by her macabre find and returns often to the spot where Alice was murdered. She wonders who the victim was and why she was killed. She searches out explanations and meets people who have connections with death, either because they themselves narrowly escaped it or because a loved one has died. Several of the people she contacts become a support group for her.

Because Alice is narrating much of the story, we learn a lot about her "before," along with Noah, the kind, much older man who took her into his apartment. He helped her, and they became close friends. Noah wanted to help Alice see a brighter tomorrow and encouraged her to use her purloined camera to take photos and perhaps even study photography. And that's just what she was doing when she died.

We don't know who killed Alice, and while we do find out who the culprit is at the end, Bublitz's story is more about women and the fragility of our lives rather than a murder mystery. There are men who will use women, taking it for granted that a woman's body is a possession, to be used as desired but with no obligations beyond that possessory act. Both Alice and Ruby know that feeling of being used all too well.

Bublitz also points out something called "missing white women syndrome," demonstrating that the media pays a lot of attention to the abduction or murder of young, attractive, middle-class white women like Alice versus women who are not white or who are older or senior citizens. The obsession with young white women being targeted, as opposed to women of color, is historical. Thousands of indigenous women go missing, and there is no hue and outcry. In fact, there is an acronym for missing and murdered indigenous women: MMIW.

The murderer is finally unmasked, and he's not a monster. At least he doesn't appear to be. And that's one of the takeaways from this sad story --- that the monsters who used Alice and Ruby, and the ultimate monster who took Alice's life, don't look like horrible people. The ugliness of males who use and abuse women often lies within.

BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is filled with sadness and loss. Alice's life, what might have been, is over. Yet we see a possible future for Ruby that will be better. Because of Alice, Ruby has found friends and a life in New York City. Ruby just might find her happily-ever-after --- or at least some kind of contentment.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on December 10, 2022

Before You Knew My Name
by Jacqueline Bublitz

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982198990
  • ISBN-13: 9781982198992