What We Have Left

Something is always far away ~ Rebecca Solnit

People die every day. They die in minutes. Seconds. The closing and re-opening of an eye, and the world changes direction, spins you or him or her away. Out into the nothing or everything, and not here. Not here ever again.

In New York City alone, 150 lights go out from one midnight to the next. Cancer, cars, trains, bathtubs. A bottle of pills, or a turn the wrong way. There is some kind of sorrow every second …

Elliott Thomas has quit her job in Melbourne to embark on an ‘Adult Gap Year’, which really means running away from the secret relationship she’s reignited with her ex-boyfriend Ash, whose wedding is four months away. Elliott arrives in New York City on the same night as Alice Liddell, a young woman who left her small, mid-western town with $600 cash and a stolen camera in her bag. She took the Leica from her art teacher and lover, Mr. Jackson, after he ended their affair, leaving Alice homeless once again.

Four weeks later, in the middle of a storm, Elliott will find Alice’s murdered body on the banks of the Hudson River.

When Alice’s identity cannot be established, she becomes another Jane Doe on the list of lost girls. For the lonely Elliott, finding out who Jane is becomes an obsession. Unable to stop thinking about the morning she found Jane’s body, Elliott joins a support group for people suffering from PTSD. Here, Elliott meets Mimi, an embalmer who believes dead girls talk to her, Sue who has never moved on from her daughter’s death 15 years ago, and Sam, a crime novelist whose own near-death experience broke up his marriage, and triggered his lingering case of writer’s block.

All four members of the group become invested in the mystery of Jane’s identity. As the media slowly reveals details about her death, the group become amateur sleuths, investigating the masses of missing girls around the country and lists of possible perpetrators. They share their findings at their Wednesday night meetings, observed by the dead Alice. In addressing the violence around them, they each begin to face their own traumatic experiences, unaware that Alice is right there with them, helping them find her – and ultimately, helping them heal their own wounds.

What We Have Left is a work of literary fiction, combining the real life impacts of violence against women with elements of magical realism. Alternating between Elliott and Alice’s experiences, the novel explores women’s agency, the desire for reinvention, and the even greater desire to tell our own story.

~ I’m in the SFD stage of my second novel. I’ve been there for a while now. Something draws me in, yet repels me at the same time. Unlike my first novel, where the words poured out, this one is hard work. I’m posting this here to remind myself the work is being done. It exists. I’m on my way. And that I know how to do this, no matter how many times I forget what I know.