Good as Gone by Amy Gentry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
I read Good as Gone in less than 12 hours. The plot unravels quickly, and Austin-based Amy Gentry shows an admirable complexity in her characters and gives beauty to the suburban Houston backdrop. You know Amy Gentry — she wrote for the Austin Chronicle from 2012 until she left her column The Good Eye in April 2015 — and the novel that has emerged from her time away from news ink is worth every bit of that decision. The novel shows how humans are adaptable, how our own abilities to cope can be used against us. Most importantly, Good as Gone shows how capable humans are of love.
The novel starts in the past as Jane watches her older sister, Julie, walk out of their home, pushed forward by knifepoint by a man. Eight years later, a woman shows up at their home and claims to be Julie. Anna and Tom have their daughter back, but Anna starts to doubt. A private investigator who questions Julie’s identity contacts Anna, and Anna begins to catch half-truths from Julie. Julie is not always where is says she will be; Anna finds out she has a cell phone and uses a different name.
Gentry moves from Julie’s point of view to Anna’s, then flips between other women who are different versions of Julie or people who have been manipulated by the same men as Julie. To tell the stories of these women through her novel, the author draws upon her real-life experience in volunteer work helping sex and domestic violence victims. The women blur together: homeless, sex worker, young, out-of-luck. They lose their faces, their names, their bodies. Sometimes they get them back, but more often you never know.
While the question of what happened to Julie (and is this actually Julie) drives the plot, Gentry shows each character to an impressive depth. Anna grapples with the desire to believe, while all along doubting, and her instinct to protect — even if there is danger. Gentry deftly shows the complications that happen between husband and wife, husband and daughter, mother and daughter after a traumatic event. For those who enjoy mystery, there are twists and more twists to keep you guessing.
Good as Gone satisfies the need for a fast plot that swoops the reader up and will not let go until the last page. Gentry’s prose slips the reader through the novel while still leaving the reader with both bruises from the violence in life and hope from the love the characters find in themselves and give to each other. Clear your schedule for an evening and sit down with Good as Gone.