A debut novel, written by Kim Hooper, People Who Knew Me is a good start and, overall, a good read. It leaves itself open to the imagination at times but generally flows well.
We follow the life of one woman under two separate identities, her two stories fourteen years apart. The book begins a week after 9/11, with the pregnant Emily Morris about to fly out of New York to re-establish herself on the opposite side of the country. It goes on to introduce us to Connie Prynne, her new identity, in California, and Connie’s almost fourteen-year-old daughter Claire. Claire is delightful, pretty much a model daughter.
But back to 1992: Emily meets a tall, slightly scruffy neighbour, Drew, falling immediately in love. Both intend to go to graduate school, Drew doing culinary and Emily studying to enter the arts world. They marry, then find out the cold, hard truth of supporting themselves while gaining an education. One of them will have to work. They toss a coin to establish which of them it will be while the other continues at grad school. Emily loses.
Initially happy, things begin to change when Drew’s mother develops a debilitating illness, Parkinson’s. He becomes her primary carer and Emily supports all of them. Drew devotes more time to caring for his mother and has less time for Emily. She feels guilty because of her perceived selfishness. And then, feeling shut out, she meets and falls deeply in love with Greg.
The trauma of an ill-fated September day provides a switch point. Connie makes a decision to disappear; she moves to California and works steadily, supporting herself and Claire, but now, approaching 44, she finds a rash and goes to the doctor.
“We might be dealing with inflammatory breast cancer… I want to set you up with a core biopsy… We want to catch it early.”
He didn’t say, Or rule it out completely. I wish he’d say that.
We go through chemo with Connie. The subject is handled well by Kim Hooper (as is the Parkinson’s of Drew’s mother). Following diagnosis, the life Connie and Claire have established falls apart. As Connie has treatment, she must face up to much of her earlier life, the cheating, the affair, the disappearance (making it appear she was one of those lost in 9/11), the paternity of her child…
There are many areas of the book where compassion and empathy are needed. The reader will not necessarily agree with much of what Emily/Connie does but unless any one of us has been in her situation, it will be impossible to judge fairly. The alternating story explains much about Emily/Connie and many of us will even stop to think how we’d have handled her situation had we been her.
A page-turner that will provide interest and promote thought in most readers; it is perfect fare for book clubs and discussion groups, covering such a wide range of issues.
People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper is available from Dymocks
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