Friday, August 17, 2012

Lisa Jackson, YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW: Extreme Suspense

What are you most afraid of? No, you can't say "spiders" -- and just this once, you can't say "the dark," either. Think of the situations that actually can be terrifying: Losing your identity. Losing power over your own life. Losing your child.

And if that last one gripped you in your throat and your heart at the same moment and gave you the hint of a possible headache or made you want to stop reading, you're in for as much agony and terror as I was, reading the new thriller from Lisa Jackson, YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

Released this month, it's the 13th stand-alone suspense novel from this powerful West Coast narrator of our most chilling moments. There's no secret about Ava Garrison's misery: Her son Noah vanished two years before, a darling little boy in hooded sweatshirt and rolled-up jeans. Despite Ava's relative wealth (she owns most of an island) and handsome husband, and her previous life -- "Once, she'd been brilliant, at the top of her class, not only a stellar student but also a businesswoman" -- she's falling apart. Visions of her son lure her toward danger. Is it the drugs she's leaning on to survive the emotional pain? Is her mind crumbling?
No one should suffer like this. Weren't there painkillers for this sort of thing? Prescriptions to stave off migraines? Than again, she took a lot of pills and couldn't help but wonder if the pain slicing through her brain was because of the medication rather than in spite of it.

She didn't understand why they were all out to torment her, to make her feel as if she were crazy, but she was pretty damned sure they intended just that. All of them: the nurses, the doctors, the maid, the lawyers, and her hsband -- most certainly Wyatt.

Oh God ... she did sound paranoid.

Maybe she was.
Jackson spins nearly 500 pages of intense self-questioning, risk, and cautious investigation for Ava, but her situation is dire, including the threat of being locked up forever in an asylum. Her husband declares:
"You were committed because you tried to kill yourself! Pills and a razor. Do you remember that?"


"Then you're still sick, Ava. Very sick." He touched her shoulder lightly, almost lovingly, but she knew it was all fake. An act.

"I'm never going back to the hospital."

He didn't respond, just held her gaze with his own, that slightly superior, condescending stare she hadn't noticed before she married him. Though he didn't utter a word, she felt the We'll just se about that, hanging silently in the air between them, and a dread, as cold as the bottom of the bay, settled into her soul.
We've known plots like this, in the classic "Gothic" women's novels. Jackson's skill brings the threat directly into our modern lives and makes it completely real. How many women have been declared insane thanks to husbands who wanted to be rid of them? Chilling numbers, especially a mere hundred years ago, and more so when divorce wasn't an option.

And maybe it's not an option for Ava, either. Whether she can protect her mind, her freedom, or her lapsed authority in her own home looks doubtful. Jackson's red herrings, friends without enough loyalty to Ava, and roller-coaster twists of plot kept my stomach lurching, and my fingers turning the pages, frantic to see Ava find some way, some way ... before the entire menacing network of her life destroys her completely.

There's still time for summer reading; grab this one and turn off the cell phone. The ring will only scare you, once you're into the story. Only reading it all the way through provides a chance for you to take a full breath again. Oh sure, I'm speaking for myself -- someone whose worst nightmares have always been the ones that involve losing one of the kids. Even now that they are in their 30s, those dreams come back from time to time. Ava Garrison, I'm on your side, for all 472 pages.

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