Dismantled is the latest offering by Jennifer McMahon, the New York Times bestselling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell. One summer, a group of student artists turned anarchists (the Compassionate Dismantlers whose motto is “Dismantlement = Freedom”) are involved in a dramatic series of events that have come back to haunt them. Literally.
Dismantled is a disturbing, masterfully crafted, suspenseful novel that keeps readers guessing right through to the end. Is it a ghost story? Or just an coincidental interweaving of imagination, secrets, and manipulations as experienced by a bevy of connected characters?
Ringleader Suz, having isolated her group in a cabin in the woods by a lake, manipulates and goads them into more and more extreme acts of “compassionate dismantlement.” But when she pushes too far, the fallout leads to her own death. The others scatter, holding onto the secret of what really happened. Years later, a mysterious set of postcards spurs a complex series of events into motion, unraveling secrets and affecting all who remain.
Over the course of the story, several female characters wind up exploring both sides of the sexual spectrum: Winnie, a poet who was weaned away from her boyfriend by the group’s charismatic and manipulative ringleader, Suz, transfers her devotion, setting up housekeeping with her; Suz, after winning Winnie, secretly samples the charms of a guy in her group; Tess, crazy in love with Henry back in college, is now a housewife and mother whose marriage has broken down. She becomes intrigued by Claire, a charismatic collector of her art. The bisexuality of each character comes from a specific emotional circumstance that fits with each character and her story.
Tess and husband Henry, distressed by their unraveling marriage, jointly care for their nine year old daughter Emma, who has an imaginary friend she calls Danner. But is Danner truly imaginary? Did Suz really die? Is she back for revenge? Why are objects from the past mysteriously appearing and disappearing? Can Henry and Tess keep their long held secret from ruining their lives and that of their daughter? McMahon weaves aquatic imagery throughout her intricate, enthralling, tale that takes you step by step into a mysterious world where reality shifts and changes like shifting sands until the startling conclusion.
DISMANTLED by Jennifer McMahon Harper Collins
Trade paperback; $15.99; 432 pages