Following a dark prologue that haunts the entire book, “Remember Me Like This” (Random House, 365 pages, $26) starts where many thrillers end: a kidnapped child is returned to his family. Bret Anthony Johnston, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and now the director of creative writing at Harvard, brilliantly reminds us that an apparent happy ending is just the beginning of another story.
Justin Campbell has been gone for four years when he is suddenly recognized and rescued from his kidnapper. “Remember Me Like This” is driven by the shifting and confusing emotions experienced by Justin’s family members in the days and weeks following his return. Johnston shifts perspectives among Justin’s mother, father, younger brother, and grandfather. He brings each character fully to life, and their emotional lives — confused, troubling, illogical, fiercely compelling — are searingly resonant. We are witness to a family in deep crisis despite — even because of — Justin’s miraculous return.
Laura, Justin’s mother, reflects on the disconcerting power of her son’s return early in the novel: “She’d long believed that the meridian that would define and divide her life would be Justin’s disappearance. Before, after. Light, darkness. But no, the true division was his homecoming. Every previous experience grew formless, irrelevant. It was as if everything she’d known before had been covered in heavy black cloth.”
The book’s prologue gives us a glimpse of where the novel is headed, as a body is discovered beneath a bridge. Just whose body it is isn’t revealed, and the open question adds a significant layer of suspense to “Remember Me Like This.” Johnston keeps us guessing without letting the question become the book’s only focus. He artfully refuses to leave us with a pat ending.
“Remember Me Like This” is a significant accomplishment and highly recommended.
Rob Cline is a writer and published author, marketing director for University of Iowa’s Hancher and director of literary events for New Bo Books, a division of Prairie Lights.