Book review: Reconstructing Amelia – Kimberly McCreight (fiction, ***)

There’s inherent drama at the heart of Reconstructing Amelia, as a mother attempts to understand why her teenage daughter Amelia was killed and how the incident was framed as a suicide. She does this largely by sifting through Amelia’s texts and online correspondence.

I was immediately drawn to the novel’s central, squirm-inducing idea: that of your mother (or other loved ones) sorting through your things after your death, learning your secrets. And, for the mother, the process of reconciling the person your daughter actually was – rather than who you thought she was – is fascinating. To quote Sally Draper in the latest season of Mad Men, “I am so many people.” We are all so many people. And how might our loved ones come to understand our many facets after we die?

In addition to this arresting question, Kimberly McCreight creates a rich backdrop to her story, with secret societies, hazing rituals and burgeoning sexuality all forming a part of the novel. The result is a mystery with (just about) enough surprises to keep my attention. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that McCreight never manages to plumb the depths of her premise. All that inherent drama – but without anything new or insightful to say about it.

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