“Guilty people keep secrets.”
Isabelle Austen returns to her hometown on a small, isolated Pacific Northwest island to take over the family tourism business after the death of her mother, a disapproving parent and a hard woman to love. Feeling lost, Isabelle is also struggling with a recent divorce and wondering if she’ll ever come into her own. Then her life takes a surprising turn: The mysterious Henry North arrives on Parrish Island, steps off a seaplane, and changes Isabelle’s world forever. From the beginning, their relationship is heady and intense—then Isabelle learns of Henry’s disturbing past, involving the death of a fiancée and the disappearance of a wife. Suddenly Isabelle is caught between love and suspicion, paranoia and passion, as she searches for the truth she may not want to find—and is swept into a dangerous game she may not survive.
Praise for What’s Become of Her
“A darkly enchanting romance sinks into a thrilling cat-and-mouse game.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Caletti elevates reader discomfort to the maximum in this nuanced suspense novel. . . . The plot builds to a surprising and well-developed conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“As Caletti combines literary fiction with suspense, she keeps readers guessing until the last page.”—Booklist
“This is a lush, suspenseful read set in a sleepy seaside town, with both main characters using the locale (and each other) as a means to escape. Caletti’s strengths are all on display: the novel is carefully paced, the prose excellent, and the characters (and their ghosts and demons) are realistic and strikingly drawn. Each person’s motivations and reliability as a narrator are weighed and considered over the course of the novel, with expectations upended and reevaluated constantly. The build to the climax is relentless, tense and satisfying.”—RT Book Reviews
“This is a fast-paced read, with exceptional moments of suspense.”—The Book Review
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In about twelve minutes, Isabelle Austen’s old life will be gone forever. Right now, though, the seaplane is still in the air, out of her sight, a few miles off the coast of Parrish Island. When it finally arrives and splashes down, and when Henry North ducks out of the doorway, that’ll be it. Done. Over. She has no idea. Not a clue. Dear God, it’d be easy, if you could read the future. But you can’t, so she just stands there on that dock as the air currents shift, and wings tilt, and change jets her direction from across the sea. It’ll all be very good and very bad, quite necessary and disastrous, because love plus tragedy plus fury is a potent but untidy mix. Now she only waits, surrounded by gray, choppy waters.
There’s a sudden commotion in the sky. She looks up. No, it’s not the plane yet. It’s those birds. The flock of crows is overhead, midway in their evening commute. She watches and can’t help but shiver, because there are hundreds of them. Hundreds. The sky almost turns black. It could be a Hitchcock film, even if it’s just nature, being weird and creepy and magnificent. She has seen this too many times to count, but she never fails to be awestruck.
Isabelle holds still and listens; she hears the whiff whiff of wings as they pass. A murder of crows, it’s called. No one is exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s due to all those years with a bad rap, with the mean reputation as creatures of terror and loathing. Or it could be because of that old, frightening folktale, which says that crows gather to decide the capital fate of the criminal among them. A death-sentence jury in wings and black satin.
Look, they come and they come and they come, and it’s like some freak event, only it happens every morning and every night, every single day of the week. If they are harbingers of danger, then there is a lot of danger coming. If they are portents of retribution, the guilty better watch out.
The plane arrives. Isabelle ties it down to the moorings, with big ropes wound in figure eights onto iron cleats. She wipes her hands on her jeans. Eddie Groove, the pilot, cuts the engine of the four-seater Cessna. When he does, there is an abrupt silence. At least, the only sounds are the waves sloshing against the plane’s pontoons, and a far-off radio on a boat, and the whisper-flap of those crows overhead. The propeller slowly spins to a stop.
Inside, Eddie and the passenger exchange a few last words. The door of the plane opens, and a man appears. He has tousled hair and a quiet confidence and bright eyes with smile crinkles.
“Welcome, Mr. North,” Isabelle says.
“Isabelle? Nice to meet you in person.”
Henry North takes her offered hand and steps onto the dock. Why this handsome man—an innocent-looking man, carrying a leather case and wearing a sweater with soft elbow patches—chose this far-off corner of the world, well, it’s not a question that occurs to her until much later. The too late kind of later. She doesn’t think about what his plans are, or what his history might be, probably because her own history is shouting and crashing so loudly in her head right then. She recently left Evan after eight years together—two married, six not—and her mother’s just died, so she’s as unanchored as a ship from its shore. History jammed with history is always where the trouble starts, even without all the suspicions that shadow Henry North.
“Beautiful,” he says, as he looks around before settling his gaze back on her.
The word seems to refer to the harbor, the cove, the island, to the fact that he’s arrived, and even to Isabelle herself. For a second, this makes her feel something lately unfamiliar: happy. Isabelle doesn’t spot the dark circles, which tell the truth of his haunted, sleepless nights. She doesn’t think about crow metaphors and doomed foreshadowing, or what your own wrecked self brings to a situation. Instead, the positive and grateful word beautiful reminds Isabelle that she’s always been a positive and grateful person, and all at once she smells that great gasoline-and-saltwater smell, and notices the way the waves sparkle, and how do you explain a swift turn of mood, anyway? Her emotions have been all over the place. It’s just maybe a good day for once, a good day during a bad time.
He grins at her, and she smiles back, and right there, zing, something sort of aligns with something else. It’s not the huge, tectonic shift of love at first sight. It’s just a crickle of energy. Still, a grin can be enough to set things in motion, same as a loose rock can start a landslide, same as a burble of lava begins a blast. Things have to start somewhere. Because, what a great grin. It’s the kind that makes you like a person instantly.
“Did you have a pleasant trip?”
“I definitely did.”
He stares straight into her eyes. It’s a trick of both lovers and predators, she realizes, but so what? Blame the fact that she’s brokenhearted (but ready to be done being brokenhearted), recently uprooted and orphaned (if you can call a thirty-seven-year-old with dead parents an orphan). Blame fate, or the semi-evolved parts of a human brain, whatever. But her heart flops like a newborn. The fingers she’d just grasped were warm and solid, so it’s understandable.
He shields his view, takes in the eerie flock above. The dock rocks a little. The sky has turned dusky pink. The crows are a multitude of stark shadow puppets flap-flapping behind the sunset screen.
Henry North watches for a while. As he does, Isabelle checks out his nice leather shoes. She takes in the rest of him, too: his left ringless hand holding a briefcase, a maroon bag slung over his shoulder, and Oh, no, Isabelle—the way he smells. He smells like outside, sun plus wind, an open-air largeness that makes her remember old, great summers.
“ ‘With many a flirt and flutter . . .’ ” Henry North finally says. To Isabelle’s confused squinch, he clarifies. “Poe. ‘The Raven.’ ”
Intriguing, she thinks.
Actually, slightly thrilling. A poem! (Though her hiding, cynical side, the dream squasher she ignores, scoffs. A poem?) Evan, the reluctant husband, the cruel heartbreaker, was in pharmaceutical sales. He could quote the highest prescribing physicians in a tristate region, but that was all. Oh, the number of missteps already! She’s completely forgotten that past lovers and future ones are sometimes like dogs. They can look so different from each other, but they’re still the same animal.
“Does this . . .” He indicates upward.
“Every night. Every morning at sunrise, too.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. What are they doing?”
“Coming home. They go to Friday Harbor for the day and then return here to their roost.”
These are common questions. Most of Island Air’s flights leave in the early hours and arrive at dusk, a schedule that nearly matches that of the crows, so the unrushed tourist will often ask. Right then, Isabelle can see another one of their pilots, Liz Rajani, off in the sky-distance. She’s in the tiny yellow-and-white Beaver, bringing six passengers for a family reunion on Parrish. Out their left-side windows, they’ll glimpse the swath of black, looking like the long, trailing scarf of a widow.
If they even notice. If they’re not too busy chatting about so-and-so’s new boyfriend and Aunt Someone’s heart attack and whether they’ve ordered enough chicken for the barbecue. Who ever notices omens, anyway.
Pilot Eddie salutes Isabelle with two fingers, indicating he’s done, that’s all, no more help needed. All the pleasantries with the customer are finished—the Thank you and the You’re welcome and the Have a great time. Henry North walks up the dock with the intoxicated-looking gait of one unaccustomed to the bumping and rocking of water. It makes him appear humble and vulnerable, and so do those soft elbow patches. With his briefcase, he seems like a too-serious child, the ill-fated sort, on the way to a school full of bullies.
Isabelle feels a gust of concern for this stranger, the sort of compassionate goodwill that gets a thoughtful person into trouble. On a whim, she follows him, trots to catch up, not something she would generally do. It’s unusual enough that she feels Eddie Groove’s eyes boring into her back, or maybe that’s just her good sense jabbing her between her shoulder blades.
It’s not Eddie’s business, anyway. He’s known her since she was small, but she’s his boss now. Since her mother died and she came back here five months ago, Island Air is hers until she decides what she wants next. What she wants next is a question that gapes like the dark mouth of a cave. All she knows so far is that she wants things to be easier than they have been. It’s been effort, effort, effort trying to make things work with Evan; she’d put the coins in that particular slot machine for years hoping for the sweet jackpot of a happy marriage and children, and instead, the slot machine just stopped taking coins one day. That dream is gone, but she maybe still wants the regular good stuff a life can offer—love, a little happiness, peace.
But maybe she wants to take chances, too. She’s always been so ridiculously careful. She kind of hates herself for it. Come on—be bold! Life is short, right? Hers is a complicated legacy—might as well get some pleasure out of it. For all the mess and hassle, she can at least have a pleasant conversation with a good-looking man. Why not? She’s a grown woman, for God’s sake. Sometimes grown women must remind themselves that they are grown women.
I sign your paycheck, Eddie, so stop looking at me like that, she thinks, while Eddie is only peering at the distant sky, gauging the change in weather. Isabelle gets angry with the wrong people and not angry enough with the right ones. It’s silent anger, besides; all stomachaches and insomnia, because anger is nuclear. Her acts of rebellion occur mostly in her head, which has been a big problem. Another problem: It can be hard to tell if your best traits are actually your worst ones. You’ve got a kind heart, Isabelle, her friend Anne used to say, and it’s the common refrain. Her entire life, from the first grade on, when Mrs. Baxter paired her with Tony Jasper to be a good influence, it’s been You’re so helpful! You’re always smiling! You’re so nice! Nice can feel like being shoved in a trunk with your wrists bound and your mouth taped shut.
Her mother is gone, so there’s no hovering threat, no forceful presence or hand about to smack. Evan is gone, too, so there’s no moody baby-man to tiptoe around. She can be anyone she wants. Do whatever she wants. She can rewrite her own history, starting today. She has always wanted to travel, to be a part of a wider world, so how about it, huh? She can be spontaneous, learn to scuba dive, climb Everest (okay, maybe not climb Everest).
She finds Henry North waiting just outside the small white bungalow that serves as Island Air’s office. He faces the street that’s rapidly filling with ferry traffic.
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Deb Caletti
Random House Reader’s Circle: Crows play a huge role in the overall imagery and underlying themes of the book. Do crows have any personal meaning to you outside the book? What inspired you to use them here?
Deb Caletti: Recently, we moved from the heart of the city of Seattle to a quieter spot near Lake Washington. We live in a house that is nearly all glass in the front (sound familiar?), which faces out to the wide lake and the big sky. It is an ever- changing show out there, from storm clouds and lightning to eagles and blue-blue-blue and boats of every kind. More rel- evant to the book—and just like in its opening scene—every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset, the wave of crows passes by. Sometimes they are down low near the lake, and sometimes right overhead, and sometimes they make a racket, and sometimes there is only the quiet puff of wings. And, just like in the book, too, they coincide with the arrivals and departures of the seaplanes, which are also here in my regular view (I am watching one land as I write). So, my very own setting inspired me. I wanted to know more about those crows. I wanted to research and learn about their lives, and to think more about flight in general. I wanted to share the mys- tery and awe of their mass commute. Like Isabelle, I have seen those crows hundreds of times now—through white fog and windstorms and against the sherbet colors of sunset— and I never fail to feel the wonder.
RHRC: In many ways, What’s Become of Her is a story about returning to the past, and eventually moving beyond it. For Isabelle, it’s coming home to take over the family business; for Henry, trying, and failing, to outrun his dark past. While writing, did you find yourself returning to your past as well?
DC: What’s Become of Her is definitely a story about under- standing and moving beyond the past. Isn’t that what we all must do? No matter our situation, we grapple with where we came from and what that means and how it still continues to affect us. Isabelle does not just return to the family business, but to all of the family business in the largest sense—her re- lationships with her mother and father, and how those dy- namics have affected her self-esteem, her partner choices, her sense of personal power, and her relationship to anger.
Most definitely I returned to my own past while writing the book. For me, if you don’t make a personal and deep con- nection to what you’re writing, the book won’t be very hon- est or meaningful, to either write or to read. Every time I begin a book, I ask myself what is on my mind, what is both- ering me, what I might want to think more about or under- stand better. With this book, it was my own relationship to anger, which is, of course, rooted in my own past. I’d been thinking a lot about that, how I often felt cut off from my anger, how I didn’t really understand it at all, and how it seemed a useful and beautiful thing out of my reach. Like Isabelle, I’d had adults in my childhood whose anger had been large, and like Isabelle, I had grown into someone who stepped carefully around others’ aggression and my own. But how could I, or Isabelle, make sense of anger and wield it? How does one embrace it as a part of the self-protective ar- senal given all humans and animals? As a writer, returning to your past is where the good stuff is, for both the book and for you as an evolving human being. You roll back the rock from the cave door, and skeletons are in there, but there is also treasure. And writing about anger and fury and wrath and rage, especially when you haven’t allowed yourself to get very near those things—well, it felt pretty great. Glorious, actually.
RHRC: Though Isabelle’s mother died before the story be- gins, she is still the driving force behind many of Isabelle’s actions. Can you discuss the challenges in creating and devel- oping a character who lives only in memory but reaches so far beyond the grave?
DC: When someone dies or even just exits your life, they can still be very, very much alive in your own mind, and the more complicated the relationship, I think, the more likely this is true. I knew, then, that Maggie could naturally become a fully developed character just from her appearance in Isabelle’s thoughts, especially if we also heard Maggie “speak” in those thoughts. Maggie would be less clear and wouldn’t work as well as an off-screen character, if we didn’t have a way of actually hearing her voice. Dialogue is so critical to a charac- ter coming alive for a reader.
Still, Isabelle’s relationship and views of Maggie are only Isabelle’s own, and readers would likely know that one daughter’s take on her difficult mother will be both biased and limited. Rounding Maggie out, letting the reader see that Isabelle’s experience with her mom was trustworthy, this re- quired supporting evidence from others. With this in mind, I was careful to include Jane’s own complex relationship to Maggie, as well as brief insights from the people in the Par- rish community, from Remy and Jan, owner of the Red Pearl, to Joe, and even Officer Ricky Beaker.
RHRC: Weary is a very mysterious character throughout much of the book, and it’s often unclear whether or not he is trustworthy. What inspired you to create him this way?
DC: The most obvious answer is that not knowing Weary’s motivations—whether he is out to harm or hurt Isabelle— builds suspense. But I also love the idea that we are all unreli- able narrators of our own story; I love that every person brings their own history and temperament and a million other things to their view of their life experiences. I am in- trigued by the way people can present themselves one way, but how, after learning the events of their past, you gain a deeper understanding of that individual. Weary is a complex character, with a traumatic backstory. He is full of rage and fury, but also full of love and regret. He is sometimes cocky, sometimes insecure; he is sometimes fearless and sometimes very afraid. He confuses and unsettles us, until the pieces come together and we finally see who he truly is and what has happened to him—and then, hopefully, every mystifying emotion and behavior makes perfect sense.
RHRC: Edgar Allan Poe has a strong presence in the book and heavy influence over many characters. What inspired you to weave the poet into a modern story, and what were some of the challenges you faced in putting a fresh spin on his clas- sic work? How did this alter your writing process?
DC: I knew I wanted to write something with contemporary gothic shadings. With both the crow-raven element and the revenge theme, Poe was a natural consideration in terms of a tie-in. My mother had a book of Poe’s poetry and stories that I read as a teen, and back then, I loved the melodramatic hor- rors and florid language of his work. I was an avid reader of Hitchcock stories and Agatha Christie, haunted anything, gloomy-castle-plus-heroine paperbacks on up to Du Mauri- er’s Rebecca, and the southern gothic classics of Faulkner, Capote, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor.
When I started thinking about What’s Become of Her, I re- turned to my mother’s book of Poe (with its pink cover and raven on the front), which I still have on my shelf. In reread- ing these poems in light of the book, I was most struck by Poe’s complex relationship with women. What leapt out at me was the lost woman, the idealized woman, the attractive yet passive and helpless damsel, the dead beauty on a pedes- tal, the woman-as-object. Reading once again about Poe, the man, was also enlightening. His vast, unrelenting ego and his terrible, tormenting insecurity jumped out at me, too, be- cause, while I remembered these things about him and his work, all of this looked different to me now. As someone who, like Isabelle, followed the siren call of the past right smack into an abusive relationship, I felt quite certain that I knew what I was seeing. Although I am not a Poe scholar, I at least recognized warning signs—idealization, objectification, controlling criticism, rigidity, and possessiveness. Poe seemed to share these traits with Henry (and with most abusive men), and this was my “fresh spin.” It did not alter my writing process so much as enhance it. That the same personalities (and personality disorders) have existed over time—it was a piece that added layers, I felt, to the idea that people from the past can go on haunting us.
RHRC: While reading, there were many times when our pre- dictions about the ending were totally upended by new plot twists, which made the actual ending even more satisfying. Can you discuss why you chose the ending you did, and how you imagine Isabelle’s life will unfold after the final page?
DC: In spite of all the heartbreak and horrors and tough stuff and too-real plot twists a life can bring, I guess I am still an optimist. I want to believe that we can summon the power to go from victim to hero, from tragedy to triumph, in our own stories. I chose this ending because I think it’s the ending Isa- belle earned and Weary earned and that they both deserved. And while that might be lofty and novelistic, I do more realistically believe in our own personal evolution, in our ability to learn from our past, even if true change remains a bit of a daily struggle. I am a believer in one-step-back, two- steps-forward toward peace and joy. So, I guess I imagine Isa- belle doing just this, but in her new environment now: evolving, learning, still in the daily struggle. One-step-back, two-steps-forward, in that beautiful place where she can fi-
1. Even though Isabelle’s mother is dead before the story starts, she still maintains a strong presence as a character in the book. How did her presence affect your perception of Isabelle in the present?
2. At what point in the book did you start to distrust Henry, and what were the biggest “red flags”? What advice would you have given to Isabelle in that circumstance?
3. The raven is a commonly used archetype throughout lit- erature and folklore; discuss any potential impact that had on your reading experience.
4. Discuss the main themes of the novel. Which did you find most thought provoking?
5. Weary’s motives are often unclear; at what point did you know Weary was a trustworthy character? At what point did you have the most doubt?
6. Discuss the significance of the title as it relates to both Isabelle and Weary.
7. Though he is not a fully developed character, Edgar Allan Poe is referenced many times throughout the story, and his work adds layers of depth to Henry and Weary. How do you think the story would be different if Poe was replaced by Robert Louis Stevenson or H. G. Wells?
8. Who is your favorite character? Why?
9. What’s Become of Her alternates between Isabelle’s and Weary’s points of view; in your opinion, how did this en- hance the story? How would the story have differed with only one narrator?
10. Isabelle processes anger in many different ways through- out the novel; discuss which ways were effective, and which were destructive.
11. Discuss the significance of the closing scene. What were your primary emotions as you turned the final page?
12. In chapter 16, Weary discusses how he is perceived by the people in his neighborhood in New Caledonia; did their perceptions match yours? How did these rumors alter your opinion of Weary?
13. As Isabelle and Henry’s relationship progresses, his jeal- ous side becomes more and more apparent. Isabelle reflects, “Maybe all men have a jealous streak. Do they? She has no idea. Jealous streak—it sounds almost fashionable, like those people with black hair with a swath of white in front.” What does this line of thinking tell us about Isabelle? About Henry?
14. In the final chapter, Isabelle “feels like she could tell the story a thousand times, and it wouldn’t be enough.” What do you think she means?
15. Who would you cast to play each character in a movie of
What’s Become of Her? Why?