The Last Thing She Ever Did by Gregg Olsen is a novel that gives you all the answers you really think you need to start off with and then comes at you with questions you never really thought of. It will have you looking at your neighbors, at your spouses and at your friends in a whole new light. Or instead, in varying shades of darkness.
“…She ran over to the Jarretts’ little bungalow next door and pounded her fists against the bright pink front door. Her fingertips found her bloody earlobe and she brushed off the blood with the shoulder of her blouse. Owen and Liz were gone. Of course they were. Liz had her exam that day-the essay section of the Oregon bar-and Owen had been going to the office early to prepare for an infusion of venture capital money and then an IPO of his software firm.
She returned to the house and went through it a third time. Nothing. No trace of her son. Charlie was gone.
This was real.
It was her fault.
Finally, Carole slumped on the upholstered bench at the foot of the bed and dialed 911.
‘My little boy is missing,’ she said, giving the dispatcher her address. She fought for composure with every syllable as she scanned the surface of the Deschutes.
‘Please come as fast as you can,’ she said, holding the phone with a vise grip. ‘He’s three. I think my little boy fell into the river…”
Along the Deschutes River in Oregon, there is a community of tight knit neighbors. Some of the original families whose modest homes are now being besieged by the newer remodeled mansions along the shore. Liz and Owen have often envied their good friends and neighbors, Carole and David who seemed to have everything. A large home, a trendy and successful restaurant and a beautiful young son, Charlie. Until the morning that Charlie vanishes without a trace and the quiet neighborhood is shattered.
“….Maybe they didn’t see him,’ she said.
David held Carole by the shoulders and searched her eyes. ‘Honey, they used dogs. The dogs’ trail ended at the river. At the driveway. His scent was all over the place. And then gone.’
Next they walked along the river and returned to the play area of Columbia Park. In the center of the grass space above the river was a pirate ship climbing structure that offered slides and various interactive games aligned with the pirate theme.
‘Charlie loved to find the treasure,’ Carole said. The treasure was a grouping of six items on a spinning wheel that included jewels, coins, and other nods to the pirate theme.
‘Loves to,’ David said. ‘He loves to.’
Carole stopped. ‘I didn’t mean to…’
‘Mean to what?’ David asked, though he knew.
‘Mean to say loved. Yes, loves…”
Along the river and the small community, the vanishing of young Charlie is a mystery to everyone. All that is except for Liz. She knows exactly what has happened to the child and now, she doesn’t know how she will every tell anyone what has happened.
“….He heard Liz swallow. ‘What about Carole and David?’ she asked.
Owen turned his body toward the window. The sidewalks were full of people shopping and finding their way to one of the city’s farm-to-table places that had been featured in the Oregonian. The car show and the Charlie Franklin story had provided a one-two punch to one of the last summer weekends.
‘Be yourself,’ he said.
‘I don’t know who I am anymore.’
‘You’re Liz Jarrett. You love Carole. Go help her get through this.’
It was not a suggestion but an order.
Liz was a woman who knew how to stand her ground, but she knew that under her feet the ground was shifting and at any moment she was going to fall. It would be a hard fall, one from which she would never recover. She couldn’t push back at an order. She no longer knew who she was.
‘But-‘ she started to say, before letting her words drop.
There was no arguing with something as horrific as what she’d already done…”
It took a brief moment of distraction for Liz’s life to change forever. Now she struggles to keep her own secrets during the search and investigation into Charlie’s disappearance. But there are other neighbors who have their own dark secrets to keep as well.
The Last Thing She Ever Did by Gregg Olsen is a roller coaster ride of emotion and betrayal the lengths guilt will drive you. What is amazing about this book is that you know from the onset exactly what happens to the child, Charlie. It is what happens after that is truly the story here. The breaking of marriages and trust and the cruelty of ambition that is displayed. It is in itself at times far more horrific than the act itself.
If there is a drawback to this novel is that every male character is in some manner or another, an asshole. I understand in this glut of female driven novels, that the males characters are portrayed very often as indecisive and weak or insincere and cruel. But here, in both of the marriages affected by the disappearance, both husbands are more concerned with themselves and their ambitions than with the child or their wives. In fact, both are actually working to take advantage of the situation in one manner or the other. The only redeeming male character is Charlie, the three year old boy.
As for the women, Carole the mother of the child who finds that arguing over bad service is more important than keeping an eye on her child. Never mind that he is next to a river that comes up to their property or that he is only three years old, the phone call and getting her way is much more important. If you shouldn’t take your eyes off your child while they are in the bathtub, then I’m pretty sure that a current driven river is not really any safer. Then there is Liz, whose selfishness and self involvement actually starts this whole tragedy in motion, not to mention the absolutely cruel acts that follow. Not only to Charlie but to Carole, her friend who she is supposed to love? No they are portrayed as victims manipulated by circumstances or the men in their lives and in the end, somehow heroes.
But in truth, what we find here is that none of the characters are particularly likable. The husbands are just a little bit more so.
The Last Thing She Ever Did, in this book, is tell the truth. But don’t lie to yourself, it is only because she was confronted with it.
A really good book that will just piss you off. A great read.