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BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME
by Jacqueline Bublitz
Atria, November 2022
320 pages
$17.99
ISBN: 1982198990


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Advertised as a novel reminiscent of Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is actually a far better story, both gripping and thought-provoking. It has two heroines. Alice Lee, named for Wonderland's Alice, is from a boring town in Wisconsin. She is seduced by her high school art teacher, a man who teaches (of course) Life Drawing. She knows he's bad news, but has decided that she'd prefer not to date boys who will only leave the state if they are sent to prison. Yes, that's exactly how she puts it. She sets off for New York City to make a new life for herself. Only it's much more difficult to survive in New York City than she had thought. Alice benefits from the generosity of an older gentleman who lets her stay in his flat and lends her money, and she meets some new people. One of them murders her--which is when she begins narrating her story, from beyond the grave.

Despite this setup, Alice is no Annabel Lee, romanticized in death. She's a guardian angel instead. Bublitz's other heroine, Ruby Lee, is a visitor from the Land Down Under. Escaping trauma and trouble, Ruby accidentally finds Alice's body, and is gradually transformed by the experience. She seeks the solace of other New Yorkers touched by death, and wonders whom she can trust. New York City is a city of strangers, but one of them is looking out for her: Alice herself. The two women reach out to each other from their respective Antipodean positions: one above the ground, the other below it.

Bublitz is aware of the pitfalls of writing about women killed by seemingly random men. In Alice's voice, she points out that the dead woman is a cliche and that the male serial killer of women is usually depicted as the protagonist, his motives explored in detail, the crime scene viewed from his point of view. Bublitz rejects that approach entirely. As Alice and Ruby try to rescue each other, they defy the expectation that they should wait for salvation from the men in their lives. Moreover, solving Alice's murder is the baptism of fire that Ruby needs to prove that she can handle the city and belong to it.

The mystery is unguessable until nearly the end, with plenty of red herrings and then an explosion of real danger. Ruby and Alice's entanglements with various other characters makes the question of who killed Alice and why matter. Alice's narration is extraordinarily suspenseful and at the same time doesn't give too much away. BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME will make Bublitz's name well known.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, October 2022

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