I liked the Table of Contents (TOC) for When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker. Suspense is built right away as parts of the novel have differing numbers of chapters. The parts go from January to August. March and May have only two chapters; the final part, August, has nine chapters. It is going to be a very busy August. Already impressed by the TOC, there is an impressive twist on pages two and three of Part One, January, Chapter One. What a resounding start!
Natalie had cancer. Then she went into remission for three months. When cancer returned and she went for chemotherapy treatment, she began to write husband Luke a series of letters that would track her journey with the disease, no matter the result. The letters were written in secret and timed to be delivered over the course of a year after her death. The idea was to help Luke and the children, teenage Will and the younger May and Clayton get through the grieving process. The letters were delivered anonymously and formed a crutch that Luke depended on to get through the day. Some of the letters reminded him to make pancakes, a favorite breakfast for May. Later letters hinted at a few secrets that Natalie would later reveal. She was preparing Luke.
That might have worked had it not been for a secret box of “Natalie Stuff” uncovered by Will. Luke had respected her privacy and continued to do so after her death. Will felt no need to do so. What Will found caused him to doubt his own parentage; there were documents and letters from an adoption agency. Anxiety caused Will to act out in school which was the basis for a sit-down with the school guidance counselor and Luke. Luke’s discovery of Will’s suspicion led Will to question other parts of his life with Natalie. An examination of phone contact lists and messages revealed names Luke did not know about and one that he did. The name of Natalie’s ex-boyfriend, a former schoolmate of Luke’s, appeared occasionally. Was Natalie leading a secret life? The arrival every few days of anonymously delivered letters from Natalie, letters designed to help him, seemed to Luke they might be mocking him.
Luke determined to track down names and documents and find out how much of his life with Natalie had been true. He would take time off from work and arrange with Natalie’s best friend Annie to help take care of the kids. Annie, married to a police officer, had the time to take care of Clayton and May while husband Brian slept between shifts. Annie had a separate married life also and could not be a full-time caregiver so she split the time with Jessica, a fellow student and friend from university with Natalie. A few letters Luke received specifically recommended Jessica.
This is a complex tale of relationships on the surface and secret. Another main element of the story is one of domestic violence and abuse. There is abuse that may result directly from alcohol and drug abuse. There is another kind of domestic violence acquired as a result of having been a victim or having seen it and then repeating it in later years. Both types of violence are explored in this novel.
There are several surprises occurring throughout the novel. I won’t reveal any of them as they would be spoilers EXCEPT for the first one I mentioned above. As I began to read the story I was immediately shocked by Natalie’s death. The first several paragraphs led me to believe something different. I don’t see how a review could be written that doesn’t acknowledge Natalie’s death. After that, no spoilers.
This is a five-star Amazon read. I will now look for Wreckage, by the same author. I didn’t intend to read this in one session but that is the way it turned out. The novel has many intense emotional points that a reader will not want to interrupt with mundane things like food and drink. OK, maybe I’ll just give up the food; I can drink while reading.
This is priced at USD 4.99 on Amazon but is a free read with Kindle Unlimited. As an added bonus, the book can be both read and listened to through the combination of KU and Audible.com.