“Mother May I: A Novel”
Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: William Morrow
Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)
Thriller Set in Georgia Begins with a Kidnapping
Jackson has published nine novels, and the most recent one, “Never Have I Ever” was her darkest, and I thought her best.
In “Never” she explored the nature of evil with a sinister but beautiful and elegant villain, Angelica Roux. Jackson, like so many Southern novelists, dealt with the way the past is never really over with; something back there can come back to bite you.
This new thriller—and it is that—has some similar concerns.
Our protagonist, Bree Cabbat, 38, might be imagining things. She thinks she saw a witch, in the middle of the night, peering in her bedroom window. The witch had scraggly hair, with “a predator’s hungry eyes,” “a sour, turned-down mouth.” Was it a dream? It seemed real. In Grimm’s fairy tales, she knew, witches “snatched up tasty children.”
Later that day Bree is at her daughter’s school, when she sees the witch in the parking lot, a little old lady in “a baggy black dress and a cardigan.” While Bree sits in the darkened theater balcony, watching her oldest daughter in a play rehearsal, her infant son Robert is silently taken from right behind her.
From that moment on, her life is a torment. The witch snatched Robert, but why?
Ransom is the first and logical answer. Husband Trey is a partner in a successful family law firm. They have a lovely home, lots of money; Bree drives an Escalade and has thousand-dollar dresses. Jackson is detailed in her descriptions of life among the Decatur, Georgia one-percenters.
We learn that Bree, nee Sabreena Kroger, did not grow up with wealth, at all. She and her mother were poor, travelling to the next town to shop for clothes at a thrift store, unseen by her peers.
Bree had been a pretty good young actress, and she met husband Trey at the High Museum while she was wearing an expensive dress borrowed from the Georgia State theatre wardrobe department. Bree tells us she had the wrong sandals on—too many straps, a mistake she would no longer make.
No ransom is asked for. Instead, Bree is instructed to perform a series of really rotten tasks, and she does not know why. As a mother intent on saving her infant’s life she will do anything, sacrifice anything.
She enlists the help of an old friend, Marshall Chase, a private detective, and they desperately begin looking for clues, searching the internet. Investigations take them to Gadsden, Alabama, not airports in Beirut and Bucharest, which is a relief.
Bree’s frantic efforts to find the witch and save Robert demand a lot of her. She calls upon her theatre experience to role play, to be calm when she isn’t, brave when she isn’t. It’s much more than Anna in “The King and I” whistling a happy tune to overcome fear. Jackson suggests everyone does it. Marshall plays the role of P.I.; lawyers act in the courtroom. All the world’s a stage. If we pretend to be what we are not, do we become, for better or worse, the character we are playing?
Jackson does not mean to be developing a study of authenticity, but there it is anyway.
As in “Never,” the secret, the triggering event might lie in the past: hers? Trey’s? But even when it is uncovered, it is impossible to know exactly what it means. People remember the same event differently. One’s own memory of an event shifts over time, usually to comfort ourselves. The absolute truth is not available.
As is always the case with thrillers, the reviewer dares not say more, but be assured there is sex, blood, death, an explosion, twists and surprises even after what appears to be the climax.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.