Reviewed by Vera (Luxury Reading)
Ten years ago, Tess, Henry, Suz and Winnie, a.k.a. the Compassionate Dismantlers, were newly minted college graduates living in an abandoned cabin in Vermont. Following the manifesto of the group they formed in college, “To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart”, the foursome set fires at construction sites, poured sugar in gas tanks of SUVs, and manufactured claims of physical abuse, among others. Their ring leader’s Suz’s ideas for stunts became more and more dangerous, with one eventually resulting in her death. The remaining Dismantlers chose to bury the accident and the body at the bottom of the lake and went own their own ways, telling anybody who asked that Suz was headed to California.
Fast forward to present day, Tess and Henry are married and living in Vermont with their nine-year-old daughter Emma, just minutes away from the cabin of their dismantling days. They rarely speak of Suz’s death, but their guilt comes rushing to the surface when a postcard mailed from Vermont and bearing the words Dismantlement = Freedom triggers the suicide of Spencer Styles, Winnie’s college boyfriend. The Styles family hires an investigator to look into Spencer’s death, but his inquisitive manner turns out to be the least of Tess’ and Henry’s problems.
Tess always accepted that her daughter’s invisible friend, Danner, was a product of Emma’s wild imagination. However, in the wake of Dismantlement postcards and Winnie running around town dressed like Suz, Danner begins to take on more sinister characteristics as well. Suddenly, Emma is repeating Danner’s riddles – riddles Suz made up ten years ago – and asking Danner how she died. And whereas Danner seemed to be a friendly “presence” before, Emma is increasingly fearful of the things Danner does and the way she sometimes appears.
As Tess and Henry scramble to ward off the investigator’s penetrating questions and keep their past buried, their past may already be there knocking on their door…
To say that Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon kept me on my toes would be an understatement. McMahon weaved together a story that sucked me in, made me comfortable and then threw in a chilling punch when I least expected it. While I found all characters to be well written, it was Emma’s character that had the words “spooky” and “tripped out” constantly at the tip of my tongue. Was this nine-year old seeing ghosts, was she possessed, autistic, schizophrenic or maybe something else entirely? I switched from one conclusion to another, never finding one that quite fit. And that was true of the novel as well – any conclusion formed about the outcome was quickly disregarded as more haunting events were set in motion.
Caution: do not read Dismantled alone at night.
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A review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.