The Never List, by Koethi Zan

The Never ListI first heard about this book on the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast, when they had Zan on as a guest to talk about the novel and the writing of it. It was a bit of nepotism, as Zan’s husband is one of the Gabfest… panelists? contributors? talking people?… but I was really interested by what she had to say and so I’ll allow it! I made a mental note to check out that book at some point, but then I started hearing about it in other places from people probably not married to Zan, and everyone was excited enough that I made sure my library ordered it so I could read it.

The premise was interesting, and incredibly marketable in light of recent events — three girls who were kidnapped and tortured for years escape their captivity and more or less readjust to life, until their captor is up for parole. Our narrator, Sarah, who has become a work-from-home shut-in, is concerned that with just the kidnapping charges proved, the guy who killed her also-kidnapped BFF will make parole and come terrorize the surviving girls again. She breaks her stay-inside-all-the-time rule to fly across the country and see if she can do some amateur sleuthing and find Jennifer’s body, or at least enough evidence to keep a horrible person in jail.

I wanted to like this book a lot, and I certainly kept flipping pages to find out what was going to happen next, but even though I found the book readable and sometimes intriguing I just didn’t like it overall. Zan does a good job setting up the plot, and I quite like her writing and the voice that she gives to Sarah, but a lot of the big reveals that happen depend on having concern for or just opinions about the characters, and I really didn’t care about them at all. I found Sarah weird and off-putting with the whole Never List thing, designed by her and Jennifer to protect themselves from bad things and clearly imperfect, and while her overly analytical personality lent an interesting style to the narration, her convenient abandonment of it for the sake of the plot left me indifferent to her. And since it’s a first-person, mostly present-tense narration, it was hard to know anything about the other characters except what Sarah was willing to share, which was not much.

The plot definitely kept me going; it had its painfully predictable “twists” but also had some unexpectedly realistic moments that kept the book from going too far off the rails. With a past-tense narration or maybe some third-person omniscient, anything to give me more details about the people involved, I could see this being a book I would like a lot. But sadly, that is a different book for another time.

Recommendation: For those who love crime procedurals and want a view from a victim’s mind, and those who don’t mind some boring characters.

Rating: 5/10

an RIP read

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