The Year of Fog is a compelling look at the aftermath of a child’s disappearance, but even more than that, it’s a reflection on memory, how it works, and what it means to remember something.
Summary from Michelle Richmond’s website:
Six-year-old Emma vanished into the thick San Francisco mist. Or into the heaving Pacific. Or somewhere just beyond: to a parking lot, a stranger’s van, or a road with traffic flashing by. Devastated by guilt, haunted by her fears about becoming a stepmother, Abby refuses to believe that Emma is dead. And so she searches her mind for clues about what happened that morning and cannot stop the flood of memories reaching from her own childhood to illuminate that irreversible moment on the beach.
Now, as the days drag into weeks, as the police lose interest and fliers fade on telephone poles, Emma’s father finds solace in his faith, but Abby can only wander the beaches and city streets, attempting to recover the life and the little girl that she lost. With her hope fading and her life at a crossroads, she will leave San Francisco for a country thousands of miles away. And it is there, by the side of another sea, on a journey that has taken her into a strange subculture of wanderers and surfers, that Abby will make the most astounding discovery of all, as the truth of Emma’s disappearance unravels with stunning force.
The book plunges into the immediate events leading up to Emma’s disappearance. She’s out of sight by the second page of the book’s text. I actually felt this was a little off-putting, there was this big emotional event and I didn’t even know the characters first.
Any doubts I had were quickly set aside. I got to know Abby as well as any literary character I’ve encountered, and see her version of Emma and Jake, Emma’s father.
As captivating as the plot was– and I was eager for every detail of Abby’s search for Emma, long after the police have given up, the volunteers have gone home, even after Jake has started to doubt the value of what they are doing, it isn’t the most compelling part of the book.
The characters would have been enough to carry the story on their own. I only saw the secondary characters through Abby’s eyes, and even with her (at times skewed) perception, they were a very interesting collection of people. Even as her search limits her contact with people from her life before, it puts her in contact with individuals she never would have gotten to know otherwise– from David at the support group for parents with missing children, to Goofy, a young surfer that becomes a friend. Goofy is one of several characters I saw enough of to know that I wish I could know them even better.
The plot and the characters make for a solid interesting book. What pushes it beyond that is the examination of memory– what makes memory work, what does it mean to remember something. These ideas are examined in abstract, as they apply to Abby’s life, and as they apply to tracking down Emma.
Why not 5 stars? There were a few spots in the book that didn’t feel up to the same standard as the whole– places where the events didn’t feel quite as right, where it dragged just a bit, where the writing felt a little less even. These weren’t enough to keep me from liking or appreciating the book– I still think it is excellent. I just don’t give out that last star easily!
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffie became Abby to me. I wasn’t aware of her as the narrator, I simply heard Abby telling the story.
Production: Overall, a nice production. I downloaded it from Overdrive via my local library, and I liked that the breaks between the parts (~75 – 80 minutes each) all occurred between chapters.
Audio or Print: I know this book worked well as an audiobook, but I can’t point to any way the audio made the experience better. I think either is fine.
Book Club Notes:
The Year of Fog is the 2011 Silicon Valley Reads book. My Book Club M reads the SVR book every year for our January meeting.
We had 6 of us at the meeting, and we all really liked the book. We all are moms, and agreed the book would have been too hard to read when our children were young, closer to the age Emma was in the book.
We had a great discussion. We talked about the plausibility of various parts of the book– what was realistic, which parts people thought were unlikely but necessary to make the book work. We discussed the relationships in The Year of Fog, particularly between Abby and Jake, but also Abby and her friends, Abby and David, Abby and Nick.
We found it interesting to wonder how the events in the book would have played out differently if Emma had disappeared on Jake’s watch, or if Abby & Jake had both been with her at the time.
We also spent some time on memory and the books examination of it.
I’d recommend The Year of Fog for book club discussion.