Though I’ve authored two murder mysteries – one, more of a legal thriller, awaiting a publisher – the murder fiction genre never has particularly attracted me. I don’t need to be frightened; the real world is so full of scary stuff that I have all I can handle.
However, the world of literature offers a trove of books that treat murder in literary fashion. I think back on one by Joyce Carol Oates maybe three decades ago (don’t recall the title) that had a guy shoving his wife through a sliding glass door in a moment of passion, killing her. The motives of the characters took precedence over the violence. One became immersed in the protagonists and antagonists more than in the action.
Now comes The Other Side of Everything, which fits neatly into that category. The author, Lauren Doyle Owens, adroitly unfurls the characters, infusing them with a reality that causes us to identify with them, much like we might grow to understand a new neighbor (for good or ill) as our association with herm (my gender-neutral pronoun) progresses.
Maddie is a quirky 15-year-old whose mother has left, unannounced, her husband, daughter and the girl’s younger brother. Owens adheres to the classic fiction-writing dictum of showing rather than telling in getting us to fathom her. The author never spells out the pain Maddie is suffering. Instead, it becomes jarringly real when the teen begins cutting her thighs, later shoving a needle under a thumbnail, to inflict physical torture as a way of blotting out the emotional pain.
As for the violence, we are told about the murders of elderly women in the community, and given real descriptions of the surmised methods, but it’s all after the fact; we don’t get a blow-by-blow narration. The suspense is in wondering about the perpetrator, and what hiser (gender-neutral) motive is. Perhaps even more compelling is the tension over relationships, romantic and platonic, that develop between pairs of both young and old.
Owens, only in her 30s (but a cancer survivor), exhibits a remarkable capacity for empathy in realizing the feelings of persons generations apart. The book is a touching portrayal of the universality of the human experience.
A graduate of Florida International University’s MFA program, Owens has produced a stellar debut novel. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, encapsulating it thusly: “A tense, rich debut … (for) fans of crime fiction wanting literary flair and emotional depth.”
Owens is a novelist whose career is well-worth following.