Book Review: One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski
By Janet WebbOctober 10, 2019
In One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski, Allison Simpson is offered a job house-sitting a beachfront home, but she never expects to embark on a search for a missing woman from 30 years ago…
The tag line: “It was the perfect place to disappear…” was just as true for Maureen Haddaway thirty years ago as it is for Allison Simpson today. The two women each have a “sad story,” and they’re light-fingered, observant, and more than a bit broken by life. One Night Gone’s perspective shifts between each woman’s experience at the Jersey Shore.
Opal Beach is a fictional town on the Jersey Shore (“somewhere halfway between Ocean City and Atlantic City and way less touristy”)—a community comprised in Maureen’s day of the one percent: the rich summer families, the townies, and the carnies. Maureen is a carnie who works for C&D Amusements. After Jacqueline, a new acquaintance, introduces her to Clyde, he hires her and she thinks “it’s not a bad gig,” but that opinion likely reflects the life she’s left behind.
Clyde hires some locals to fill the spots, but we are the core crew that travels. The season picked up in late spring, and we did a few quick two-week carnivals, and then in early June we settled in Opal Beach for the summer to feed people terrible food and make them queasy on shitty rides. After Opal Beach, Jacqueline tells me, we move on to state fairs and harvest festivals, but this is only a temporary gig for me, something I need until I can figure things out, start fresh.
“Sure,” Jacqueline says in her sweet sarcastic way. “Melvin’s temporary, too. He’s been here seven years now.”
“This could be the place,” I say, ignoring her, refusing to think about Melvin and his sad eyes. I open our trailer window and let the salty air inside. “There’s a magic here. I can feel it.”
Allison doesn’t fit in with the current crowd of one-percenter folks nor is she a townie. She is notorious, however, and although she doesn’t talk about her past, everyone knows. If you blast your unfaithful spouse on a live weather report, that scene lives on in infamy. Allison’s sister, Annie, finds her a divine, off-season at the beach place to house-sit. It almost sounds too good to be true.
I tried not to roll my eyes at my sister’s undying optimism.
“And I’m sure these heavenly people are just going to hand me over the keys, right? Without even checking up on my… background?” I asked.
A large cumulus cloud whipped over the sun, dimming the patio and turning the strong wind cold. An omen, my mom would say, but quickly dismissed it.
“No, no, no.” Annie leaned forward, and I caught my reflection in her large lenses—a hunched-over, thin waif of a person with hair too long for forty. Ever since I’d gone off-air I’d let it grow past my shoulders, thought vainly I still dyed it every five weeks.
We learn a lot about Allison—her sister is worried about her, she’s gun-shy about her background, she was once an on-air personality, and she knows about clouds. Allison is tempted by the opportunity to live in Patty and John Worthington’s “oceanfront home, rent-free for the winter.” Being a divorcée at forty was never in the cards. No, she reflects, she “was supposed to be in Annapolis, living in a large, single-family home not far from the water, giving the morning weather report on WDLT Annapolis with a beaming smile and a jaunty flair, married to Dennis “Duke” Shetland.” Maybe it is time for a “new space” where she can “get perspective.”
Annie and Allison christen the beach house by having a sisters-sleepover. They “celebrate” by playing a favorite game—hide-and-seek. While searching for a good hiding spot in Annie’s bedroom, like maybe under the bed, Allison finds a “bunched-up piece of fabric.”
It had a green-and-blue paisley print that shone like a mermaid’s scales. I loved silk and couldn’t help but run my fingers over it. It seemed brand-new.
It turns out not to be Annie’s so “finders keepers.” Allison decides that she’ll “just wear it for a little while” and take it to the dry-cleaners before Patty returns. Allison is quite enthralled with the house, particularly “Jim Gund’s art on the wall.” Gund is famous for his pictures of Ferris wheels.
The Ferris wheel, a bright yellow blur in motion, looked like it was going to spin right off the wall. There was something about Jim Gund’s paintings that felt alive. Something cracked through my thoughts then. I felt faint, and I had to grab on to the back of the couch for support.
I was his lobster baby—
A voice. A woman’s syrupy voice, a hint of a laugh but somehow cold and sinister, too. With the combination of the damp smell, which seemed to be getting stronger, I felt a little ill. I shook my head to clear it.
Lobster baby. Where had I heard that before? A movie? Something someone had said to me? It was there, just around a corner of my memory, but it flicked away as soon as I tried to focus on it.
How eerie is that? There’s something spooky about the house. Allison visits Sweet Spot coffee in town after Patty’s Keurig dies on her. She’s wearing Patty’s scarf in her hair. The barista seems uneasy and nervous around her so Allison sits down and catches up on her phone messages.
My phone beeped with a text from Annie: This is the first day of the rest of your life!
I chuckled, and when I looked up, the barista was standing there, holding out my coffee. “You’re her sister, aren’t you?” she said.
“I’m sorry?” I shut off my screen and put my phone down on the table.
“Or a cousin?”
The surprise must’ve shown on my face. She breathed out heavily. “You’re not…related to Maureen?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know a Maureen.”
The barista introduces herself: she’s Tammy. Years ago, her friend Maureen wore her hair with a scarf in it, just like Allison. And Tammy hasn’t seen Maureen since that summer. The paisley scarf and Gund’s carnie pictures are talismans or objects that guide Allison’s investigation into Maureen’s past. Many people who knew Maureen years ago still live in Opal Beach and the lives of the women became irretrievably intertwined. One Night Gone has an autumnal feel, there’s a sad patina to an empty beach town in the fall. Salt, sand, and cold winds form a chilly backdrop to unresolved stories. One Night Gone will inexorably draw you into its twists and turns, just like Allison becomes obsessed with Maureen’s long-ago fate.