Friday, August 22, 2008

No One You Know, by Michelle Richmond

(hb; 2008)


"All her life Ellie Enderlin had been known as Lila's sister. Until the day Lila, a top math student at Stanford, was murdered, and the shape of their family was changed forever. In the aftermath of her sister's death, Ellie entrusted her most intimate feelings to a man who turned the story into a best-selling true crime book -- a book that devastated her family and identified one of Lila's colleagues as the killer.

"Twenty years later, Ellie is now a professional coffee buyer, an inveterate traveler who is incapable of trust. In a chance meeting with the man accused of the crime, she comes into possession of the notebook filled with mathematical equations that Lila carried everywhere. Stunned, she will return home to San Francisco to explore the mysteries of Lila's notebook and begin a search that will lead her to a centuries-old mathematical puzzle, to the motives and fate of the man who profited from their family's anguish -- and to the deepest secrets even sisters keep from each other. As she connects with people whose lives unknowingly intersected with her own, Ellie will confront a series of startling revelations -- from the eloquent truths of numbers to confessions of love, pain, and loss."


The plot and themes of No One are so similar to that of The Year of Fog that comparisons to the earlier novel are inevitable. In both novels, the main protagonists travel between San Francisco (their home city) and Central America (in No One, Ellie Enderlin travels to Nicaragua; in Year, Abby Mason travels to Costa Rica). The reason? They're both on the trail of a long-gone family member: in No One, Ellie's searching for clues to the identity of her sister's killer, as well as "proofs" that will help her know her sister (Lila), and herself, better; in Year, Abby's looking for her kidnapped child (Emma), who's thought dead by the rest of her family.

I only mention this because it's an obvious comparison, and one I wish to dispel: while the plot and structural elements are similar, their dynamics are varied. Ellie (in No One) isn't as desperate as Abby (in Year) -- losing one's sibling, while traumatic, is dissimilar to losing one's only child; the attendant emotions of both traumas have distinctive traits and questions. Also, Richmond has shuffled around their structural elements: No One begins in Nicaragua, while Year begins in San Francisco/the Bay Area; it's not until later in Year that Abby's quest leads her to Costa Rica. As if that weren't enough to differentiate the two characters, Ellie's and Abby's personalities/journeys are unique to each of them.

Richmond once again shows her love of San Francisco/the East Bay by mentioning city-specific locations that I, as an East Bay resident, recognized -- as in Year, No One's locales are both tourist-friendly and local-cool/friendly.

Emotional without being excessive, plot-true without sacrificing the characters' emotional quotients/elements, and all-around well-written, this is a superb follow-up to The Year of Fog.

Pick this up.

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