Monday, March 26, 2018

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Of the children she had found, the ones who did best over the long term were the ones who found a way to play. They created fantasy  worlds in which to hide. Some even talked their captors into giving them toys. Escaping into another world was a way for them to disassociate safely, without losing touch with reality—unlike someone like Naomi, who had blanked it all out. Yes, the ones who did the best in the long run made a safe place inside their very own minds. 
Sometimes they even pretended to be someone else.  
Naomi didn’t believe in resilience. She believed in imagination.
So says the lead character and investigator/ child-finder in Rene Denfeld’s superb novel, The Child Finder. Denfeld is a licensed investigator who specializes in death penalty work. Many of you readers will already know of her through her non-fiction writing or her excellent debut novel, The Enchanted, which I reviewed in 2014.

Naomi (the child finder) has, herself, lived under captive conditions, and we readers are introduced to her as she looks for a girl, Madison, a girl who disappeared three years before when she was five years old. I have no intention of laying out much of the story here, since it is a finely woven mystery, and giving away much at all of the plot would be a sure spoiler.

I will tell you that one of Madison’s favorite folk tales is a Russian one of a snow child. Indeed, I just came across the folk tale this year in reading and reviewing Eowyn Ivey’s lovely novel The Snow Child. Madison decides that she, too, was rolled from the snow by her captor.

In this time of great awakening, the snow girl learned much about herself and the world. She learned the world was a lonely place, because when she cried no one came. She learned the world was an uncertain place, because one moment you were one person and the next you landed on your head all goofy and woke up in a dream. She learned the world was a wild place, full of imagination, because that was the only possible explanation for what had happened.

Ms. Denfeld skillfully takes us from the point of view of Naomi and her work to Madison’s, and she is so deft in her weaving together of the two tales that the reader is kept on edge but occasionally hopeful. Hopeful that Naomi will uncover more of her own blocked past via her search, and also that somehow, miraculously, Madison may be found.

Besides great descriptions of the Pacific Northwest and the icy Cascades, Denfeld also shows her tremendous compassion for children and through telling this tale makes evident her own great imagination.

I found this book totally enchanting, and actually read it in a long, single sitting, not something I do very often. It is very difficult to put down.  On the jacket cover for the book, one commentator says, “Rene Denfeld has a gift for shining bright light in dark places.”  Indeed she does, and rather than risking being a spoiler, I’m going to stop now and urge you pick up the book for yourself. It deserves all the praise it has gotten and more.

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