REVIEW: How Quickly She Disappears

[This post contains spoilers.]

Book: “How Quickly She Disappears” by Raymond Fleischmann
Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
Release Date: January 14, 2020

Rating: [usr 2]


“How Quickly She Disappears” is “The Dry” meets “Silence of the Lambs” in this intoxicating tale of literary suspense set in the relentless Alaskan landscape about madness and obsession, loneliness and grief, and the ferocious bonds of family …

It’s 1941 in small-town Alaska and Elisabeth Pfautz is alone. She’s living far from home, struggling through an unhappy marriage, and she spends her days tutoring her precocious young daughter. Elisabeth’s twin sister disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier, and Elisabeth’s life has never recovered. Cryptic visions of her sister haunt her dreams, and Elisabeth’s crushing loneliness grows more intense by the day. But through it all, she clings to one belief: That her sister is still alive, and that they’ll be reunited one day.

And that day may be coming soon. Elisabeth’s world is upended when Alfred Seidel — an enigmatic German bush pilot — arrives in town and murders a local man in cold blood. Sitting in his cell in the wake of his crime, Alfred refuses to speak to anyone except for Elisabeth. He has something to tell her: He knows exactly what happened to her long-missing sister, but he’ll reveal this truth only if Elisabeth fulfills three requests.

Increasingly isolated from her neighbors and imprisoned by the bitter cold and her own obsession, Elisabeth lets herself slip deeper into Alfred’s web. A tenuous friendship forms between them, even as Elisabeth struggles to understand Alfred’s game and what he’s after.

But if it means she’ll get answers, she’s willing to play by his rules. She’s ready to sacrifice whatever it takes to be reunited with her sister, even if it means putting herself — and her family — in mortal danger.

[Synopsis from Goodreads]


I cannot give “How Quickly She Disappears” 3 stars, because I simply did not like it. Two stars means the book was OK. I will give it that much.

How Quickly She Disappears Raymond Fleischmann Author

This book is from Berkley, which is an imprint under Penguin Random House. The name of the publisher alone means that we should have a certain level of expectation for this title. I expected the book to be of the highest caliber, because it should be considered a bestseller if coming from Berkley. This book though is a complete disappointment.

I did not like any of the characters. I can see where the marketing folks were going with this book being like “Silence of the Lambs” in the way Hannibal Lecter toys with people. But the difference here is that Hannibal is highly intelligent and does not become obsessed with people. Instead, he just plays with people for his own amusement before he devours them. He plays with his food.

Here, Alfred is just a friggin weirdo stalker. He tries to have the upper hand by appearing intelligent (like Hannibal), but he just came across as a complete asshole withholding information, because he has some weird obsession with Elisabeth. He plays these games, because he is trying to get her to stay in contact with him, the way a lovelorn person acts towards the person they desire.

It is similar to Hannibal’s interest in Detective Starling, but there is a reason why he strings her along. Once again, it is more for his amusement in his game of chess.

At the end of the book, we discover Alfred’s been stalking the same person since she was 11 years old. He was an adult. Pedophile? Yes. Stalker? Yes. He becomes a murderer when someone tries to protect her from him. Twenty years he stalks this girl.

At the end, when this is revealed, I almost put the book down and thought I totally wasted my time with this entire book. A stalker? Add in the pedophilia, incest between sisters, and the implied hate towards women that I kept sensing from the author (not the story)…I really could not believe this book is being published in this day of Me Too.

That implied hate towards women can be seen from the beginning and throughout. It’s not just how John speaks to his wife, Elisabeth. You get a sense of hate towards the main character, Elisabeth. Her twin sister that goes missing when they’re 11 is a little nymph. A Lolita. She’s almost treated as if she’s a goddess throughout the book. Perfection. She can do no wrong.

Because Elisabeth (the good girl) isn’t, I started to note the dislike towards her. It’s similar to the reason why 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, CA in 2014. He killed six people, injuring 14 others because “he wanted to punish women for rejecting him, and punish sexually active men because he envied them.” The author made me think he had a similar unhealthy relationship with women and it was all coming out in this book.

Of note, this is Fleischmann’s debut.

I noted the complete coldness and disconnect in how Elisabeth was portrayed. One moment she is the doting mother and wife, the next she’s a cold heartless bitch all because some guy shows up and mentions her sister and that he knows where she is. Why the sudden change after one night? I started to question why she became obsessed with Alfred. Is it really because she is trying to find her sister or is there something wrong with her? Then I realized…what woman does this? Is this a complete disconnect with who women are?

It’s like Elisabeth represents a woman that rejected the author and he’s poured his anger and hate towards her into this book. He loves her, but then he hates her, because she is not with him. In a nutshell, it is a bit like Alfred’s unhealthy obsession with Elisabeth. I can definitely make that connection.

Our lead character is Elisabeth, but the whole story feels like Alfred is telling this story. I get that sense just because of the way she is portrayed throughout the book. But that’s not what the author is trying to do, it just comes across as that in the blatant hate towards her.

Then how does her daughter turn from sweet, loving child to all of a sudden a rebellious child in three months time?

I could not understand Elisabeth’s unhealthy desire to keep going towards Alfred. It made ZERO sense. Asking to see her daughter should have been the end game. But no. She brings her daughter to a murderer in a prison and then he manages to kidnap her, just like what happened to her twin sister when she was that age. This goes back to the whole BLAME THE WOMAN FOR BEING STUPID. SHE DESERVED THIS.

A mother would not allow a murderer near her daughter. NOT EVER. That’s what made this so unrealistic.

I did appreciate the Alaskan imagery, and I did feel the coldness of the setting, the darkness of the winter and the never ending light of the summers. Fleischmann does an excellent job of allowing you to feel that you are right there in the room with the characters. Where the imagery goes all wrong is how Tanacross all of a sudden has a highway and is a brand new CITY after they’ve been gone for three months. Just three months. She could not recognize Tanacross after being gone only three months.

I had to flip back, because I knew it said they’d been away only three months. The sections were correct in the timing. So how in 1942 does a small native town all of a sudden change into a bustling city and have a highway, when three months earlier you couldn’t get there except by plane? THREE MONTHS in 1942. Even if it progressed to six months, how is this possible? We can’t even do that in the 21st century.

I really had high hopes for “How Quickly She Disappears.” I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for the last six months. Now, I think my time would have been better utilized reading something better…one where I did not feel the tone of a man’s hate towards women.

[Disclosure: I received a copy of the ARC from the publisher.]

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