Splintered by Kelly Miller is a novel about a parent’s worst nightmare, the abduction of a child. This would be a horror story for any family but this novel adds several twists that occur in the lives of members and relatives of very dysfunctional families; one the family of the victim, the other the family of the perpetrator of the crime.
Lily and Maddy Eastin were a mother and daughter living in an uneasy relationship with each other. Dad and husband Tom had left the family five months earlier. Maddy was used to a close relationship with her dad and it was reciprocated. Maddy could not understand why her father had not called her once during the five-month separation. Maddy had no idea why her father had left and Lily wasn’t going to tell her. After the split, Maddy and Lily were forced to give up their nice home and move into something accurately described as a dump. It came complete with mold, peeling wallpaper and one bedroom. Mom slept on the couch. She had a menial job she didn’t like and a drug dependency that she did like. Between long hours at work and long hours after work in a drug induced lethargy, there was no time for Maddy. She was completely alone with no friends at school due to her reduced economic state, she had no adults to confide in, and she wanted attention.
Maddy caught a bus to school very early in the morning; it was still dark when she left the house. Bad guys might be about to offer a fifteen-year-old candy and adventure. Maddy came home crying one day detailing to her mother how she had escaped an abduction attempt. Police arrived to investigate and the incident was reported in the newspaper, minus her name as she was a minor. But it was a small town and her identity got out, at least to her school friends. Detective Wallace had a hard time getting consistent information from Maddy. It would be hard to find the abductors. Luckily, a security camera tape from a nearby house was discovered. Unluckily, it showed that Maddy had fabricated the entire story to get attention. Her dysfunctional family received additional stress.
Hank and Daniel Fry made up a second dysfunctional family. They were brothers; Hank had been protecting Daniel for years since he had sustained brain damage after being thrown repeatedly against a wall by his father. As Daniel matured he was developing an interest in girls. Hank was interested in girls as well but hadn’t had a girlfriend since the one he and his father had tortured fourteen years earlier. Hank’s mother had discovered Hank molesting the chained captive girl and had immediately committed suicide. It was Hank’s first experience with the girl; she belonged to Hank’s father.
Knowledge of Maddy’s deception about being abducted spread quickly through her school colleague crowd. She was the subject of cyberbullying and decided to fight back by giving a television interview where she would describe her experiences of being bullied. This meant her identity would become public knowledge.
Hank watched television. Maddy looked just like the girl he and his father had molested. Daniel needed a wife. From this point, readers should be able to figure out where the story is going. The treatment of sexual violence that the reader expects to read is done without unnecessary crude language. Miller trusts the reader imagination to fill in the blanks.
There is a lot of time spent on the development of relationships between characters. Maddy is a whiny brat through most of the novel. Lily is a self-centered mother but a lot of that is probably due to drugs. Emma, the godmother of Maddy and former close friend of Lily, is a no-nonsense type who thinks Lily should get a life. Emma has a lot of regrets about her inability to help Maddy find a life. Former husband Tom is off finding himself. The reader must decide if his reasons for deserting the family are justified.
There are some surprises at the end. The title of the novel is well chosen. I wouldn’t describe the ending as happy. Not every character completes their character arc with a win. Due to the theme, I would not describe it as a pleasant book to read. It just seems that sometimes the reader taste is to vicariously observe evil as it plays out. This novel does that.