Buried Deep ~ Book Review of ‘Cemetery Girl’ by David Bell

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on July 18, 2012 0 Comments

With the Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard cases still in the minds of readers, Cemetery Girl by David Bell is the story of a father whose daughter returns home after missing for four years.  Of course within those years Tom Stuart has tortured himself with what ifs.  What if he and his wife Abby had restricted their then twelve year old to walking the dog closer to home?  What if he had revealed to Abby that their Caitlin didn’t always obey their rules and could lie with ease when confronted as she did when she was almost hit by a car at the age of six?  And finally, what if he could have done something differently which would have caused his daughter to return to him sooner?


              To compound the pain the couple has been going through since their daughter’s disappearance, Abby has finally asked for a divorce.  The stress of dealing with the tragedy has put them in different camps in regards to coping.  Abby joined a church where she has become especially close to the minister while Tom just stumbled through life never quite accepting that his daughter is probably dead nor resigned that he will ever see her again.  However Abby wants to move forward thus arranges a memorial service complete with a gravestone – an empty grave located in a cemetery where their daughter was last seen walking the family dog.  By the way, part of Abby’s “cleaning house” mentality means that the dog is on the list of things that must go.  However she should be given credit because the funeral serves as a catalyst in the return of Caitlin.


             Cemetery Girl is told from Tom’s perspective.  He isn’t buying into Abby’s “time to move on” mode.  He knows that his marriage has been in trouble for years, even prior to Caitlin’s disappearance, however he wants things to remain whole especially since his life growing up was so full of violence.  Tom’s childhood both enhances and hinders the narrative.  One can understand his feeling that he had broken a generational cycle of unhappiness to then only have his daughter snatched away, but the way Bell writes the character at times it seems as if he has too much bravado and feels as paterfamilia he should be in control of circumstances that in reality are impossible to control.  It deflects from a good storyline of what does one do when what they have prayed for comes true, yet everything still remains messed up.


            The daughter that returns to the Stuarts if far different from the one that left.  Even though everything about her says she is their child so much has changed that one parent almost wishes she had never returned.  Besides from all of the pain the parents have gone through while she was gone, there is new pain in knowing that all Caitlin really wants to do is return to the man who abducted her.  She claims she is in love with him.  At this conjuncture of the book the story turns south.


             It isn’t hard to imagine a sixteen year old teen suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but it is hard to embrace a father willing to play an emotional version of Russian Roulette.  Bell has the audience until then.  I suppose it could be argued that he was trying to make the story suspenseful with the will he let his daughter go and live on the run with a grubby fifty something pedophile or will he become grow a spine, but when the plot is already so heavy it doesn’t need that type of action to focus its readers.  Part of the strength of a book of this nature is for us reading it to ask how would we cope in similar circumstances.


            I would recommend Cemetery Girl with trepidation.  I think it is probably a lot easier to stomach than say reading Jaycee Dugard’s memoir of her experiences, but it still has the ability to make your tummy do a back flip.  Perhaps I would feel stronger about it if at least one of the characters were more likeable, but there is a detachment of all of the principle players which keeps a reader from really hoping there is a rainbow with a pot of warm puppies at the conclusion.  However, I wouldn’t say it has a happy ending, but there is satisfaction.


           Happy reading!


Westerfield © 2012

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