Book Review: The Quiet Girl by S. F. Kosa
Mina Richards is a beautiful, best-selling romance author who’s only been married to Alex Zarabian for several months now after a fairly whirlwind courtship. After an argument one weekend, Mina retreats to her writing cottage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, several hours away from where they live in Boston. When she doesn’t respond to several days worth of contrite texts, Alex decides to put his high-pressure job as CFO of a biotech company on the backburner in order to go and apologize to her in person.
On arrival, he isn’t surprised to find that she isn’t home, but is concerned to find her wedding and engagement rings left on her work desk. He hadn’t thought that their argument had been that serious, but this discovery, along with her prolonged silence, forces him to re-evaluate the situation. He’s generally a rational person, but between recently quitting his old accountancy job to join his friend’s startup and marrying a woman he’d only known for six months, he’s starting to wonder about himself:
Uber-rational, that’s what [my ex-wife] Caitlin always called me, though it was never a compliment. Near the end of our marriage, she dropped the euphemism and just called me a cold, unfeeling bastard.
I enjoyed watching her jaw drop back in April when I told her I was getting married again. I guess it’s the new you, she said.
At the time, I was smug about it. I’d toed the line my entire life, and there I was, making my own rules, embracing the risk, and finally living.
Now I’m wondering if the new me is merely the old me gone temporarily insane.
Alex decides that the sanest thing to do in this situation is to file a missing persons report. The police department is initially skeptical, as with no signs of foul play, it just looks like Mina’s walked out on him. But when Mina’s car is found abandoned with her wallet and keys inside, they finally start taking him seriously. Perhaps even too seriously, as it soon becomes apparent that he’s now their prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance.
The chapters detailing Alex’s nightmarish search for Mina are interspersed with chapters describing the plight of an amnesiac young college student named Layla, whose own porous memory might hold the key to solving the mystery of Mina’s disappearance. Layla doesn’t remember much of her past, but does know that she was raised to be a good girl, a quiet girl. Standing on a Cape Cod beach, she tries to lose herself completely in the present:
Suddenly, she felt it all a little too much–her body, her skin, her hair. The tune she’d just been humming was gone, crowded out by tiny shocks of irritation.[…]
She took a step backward, trying to shed the sight of the ocean, until finally it let her go like an egg white slipping free from its yolk. She felt her brain quivering in her skull, a delicate membrane holding everything in place. One prick and all her thoughts might come dribbling out her ears.
S. F. Kosa has a way with words that’s grounded in her long career as a clinical psychologist, lending her the ability to convincingly describe the interior lives of people on the edge. Layla is one of these and as it turns out, so is Alex. The way their stories intertwine makes for a cunningly constructed thriller that’s as twisted as it is heartbreaking. It’s hard to come out of reading this without feeling deeply for those cowed into silence in order to preserve appearances, and without condemning the structures of complicity that make abuse possible. Ms. Kosa writes sensitively of trauma without sugarcoating the aftereffects in this page-turning domestic thriller of the secrets we keep quiet in order to protect the ones we love. The Quiet Girl is her adult psychological thriller debut and an inventive mystery novel that introduces a fresh new voice to the genre.