When the Stars Go Dark
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September When the Stars Go Dark

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The Ladies Book Club met on Thursday, August 4th, at Churchill Street Recreation Center to discuss When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain. With seasonal residents still gone, we had 14 ladies there. We signed in, grabbed our name tent and found a place to sit. Some of us made a stop at the Books-to-Share table, to add to or take away a book or two.

Kathy Morey started the meeting by welcoming everyone, then announced that our discussion leader for this month was to be Pam Iserloth, but she was called into work again. Luckily, Gayle Doucey volunteered to lead the discussion. We'll be reading 28 Summers by Elin Hildebrand for next month, with only one more book after that before we have our Morning with Local Authors in December and we have our authors lined up. She then asked Eileen Roberta how much was in the club's Books for Children reading fund? She said that as of last month, club members have donated $453 to the fund, so it's looking good. With that, Kathy turned the meeting over to Gayle.

Gayle started by quipping that she comes from a large family, so we should be able to hear her okay, which got some smiles. McLain was born in Fresno, California. Her mother vanished when she was four, and her father was in and out of jail, leaving McLain and her sisters moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years, an ordeal she described "with a dispassionate grace that puts a human face, actually three human faces, on the alarming statistics" in her memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working in various jobs before she discovered she could write. The author writes about Anna Hart's background from first hand knowledge.

Anna Hart is the main character in When the Sky Goes Dark. As a result of Anna's trauma being put into the foster care system, finally finding a good foster home with Hap and Eden, then losing a friend who went missing and whose body was later found, Anna is drawn to solving missing persons cases, and she's very good at it. Gayle could see the author's personal experience reflected in her empathy and understanding of the victims.

Gayle said she wasn't a fan of mysteries or depressing storylines, but she read this book anyway as a favor to Pam. It opens on a depressing note, but she plowed on, then she soon became curious about missing persons detective Anna Hart. She's experienced a loss (not sure what it was), and her husband doesn't seem very supportive. From her breast pumping and binding, Gayle thought she had given birth recently and the child had died. Anna is stepping away from everything and returns to her childhood home to sort things out, either to help her break from whatever she was dealing with or because of the intensity of her work. Here the reader gets to see snippets of Anna's background and she walks into another missing child case.

But before getting into the case, Gayle discussed some of the guilt Anna carries with her from childhood. Her mother dies of a heroin overdose when Anna is 8, and she tries to take care of her half siblings, but the child services swoops in and redistributes the children. She  feels permanent guilt over not being able to protect them, which may be why she chose her career and why she's good at it. She sees a therapist, Corolla, who tells her "It's not what happens to us that matters most, but how we learn to carry it." However, Anna can't let go of her guilt and being a missing person's detective has taken over her life.

When Anna gets to Mendocino, she reconnects with some of her childhood friends: Will Floyd, who's father was sheriff when Anna's friend disappeared, and who now is the sheriff; and Caleb, who's twin sister disappeared at the age of 18 and found murdered. Caleb and Jenny's mother left when they were six and they were raised by their artist father who wasn't very "fatherly." Now, 15-year old Cameron Curtis has disappeared just as mysteriously as Jenny had. Will's father was haunted by the fact that he didn't have any suspects and wasn't able to solve Jenny's murder. Will realized he was out of his depth, feared that history might repeat itself, and he asked for Anna's help. Anna agreed and as a missing person detective, she knew that time was of the essence. Did she run away or was she abducted? And as they examined Cameron's room, interviewed her mother, father, friends, relatives, finding out about Cameron. Unfolding her story was like peeling back an onion. The same was true as we learned more about Anna and her story.

Gayle thought that typical of mysteries, the author was throwing out all kinds of information and characters to lead us and mislead us. Cameron's mother was an actress, her father was having an affair and his mistress was having his baby, which was causing tension in the home. When Cameron went to a doctor, there were signs of old sexual abuse, but Cameron had no memory of it. Her mother's brother once had a charge of sexual misconduct against him, so he was a potential suspect. Did the abuse occur before or after Cameron was adopted? As layers of the onion are peeled away, they find that Cameron shares her thoughts with her school friend Gray Benson, and it turned out that he took some pictures of her so she could use them for a modeling portfolio.

The author also threw in other missing children cases. Shannon Russo, a frequent runaway, from a single-parent household, disappeared at 17, had pictures of herself that looked like a photo shoot. A psychic, Tally Hollander, contacts the police saying that Shannon was murdered. Will dismissed her, believed in following facts rather than feelings or premonitions, but Anna found that sometimes so called psychics proved helpful and right, so she went to talk with Tally. In doing that, Tally sensed some insightful things about Anna, her circumstances, etc., peeling back some of Anna's story and situation.

There was 7-year old Amber Schwartz-Garcia who had been kidnapped from her front yard five years earlier, then Polly Hannah Klaas, which was an actual case. She was 12 and was kidnapped from her home during a slumber party, in front of friends. Anna and Will looked for similarities in circumstances, victims, patterns of the perps, trying to understand what makes someone a victim and what attracts the perp to his victim. Amber and Polly weren't lured; they were snatched. Jenny and Shannon were close in age and longed to have a life with meaning. Gayle thought some were to mislead us. As Anna tries to look into the mind of the perp, she's also trying to understand what signals the victims give off that attracts him. What are some of those things? The predator is preying on girl's needs for feeling loved and special. He looks for those who are insecure about themselves and want to find a place where they fit in, girls who are lonely, those who want escape and freedom.

Kathy thought the author did a real good job in developing the story and characters. Joan Puleo said the author kept her reading, bringing her along with the story, and didn't give it away so she could figure it out. She really liked that. She added that she had read other books by McLain, like The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, and this book was so different. Tary Yurkovich didn't understand or figure out exactly why Anna was binding her breasts, but she was really interested in Anna and her story, and that kept her reading, as well. Someone touched on what had happened to make Anna's husband, Brandon, want her to leave, of not being supportive of her work. Some thought she was so caught up in her cases that there was no room for her to be a wife and mother... to the point of obsession someone added. Anna had agreed that she was obsessive when on a case, blocking out everyone and everything else.

At the end, Anna shared her trauma with Tally and we found out what happened. Her child got out of her car seat and out of the car when Anna got out of the car to take a phone call. She had wandered and the neighbor backed out of her driveway and ran the child over. Anna was so angry and filled with guilt over her daughter's death. Tally told her that it's not just what happens, but but how you carry it. She tried to give Anna an image of her daughter at peace and always around her. Anna blamed herself and felt that Brandon blamed her, as well. We recalled when Tally told Anna that her husband didn't blame her as much as she thought he did, and that Anna had to forgive herself. That seemed to be a moment of healing and hope in the story. Anna blamed herself for so many things. Joan believed that was "oldest kid syndrome." The oldest has to take care of and feels responsible for the younger ones. Joan thought the author nailed that so well.

The statue of Time and The Maiden was  mentioned throughout the story, so Gayle looked it up. In Freemasonry, the broken column denotes the untimely death of Grand Master Hiram Abiff. The beautiful Virgin weeping denotes the unfinished Temple. The open book before her displays that his virtues are on perpetual record. The sprig of acacia in her right hand represents the timely discovery of his body. The urn on her left, that his ashes were safely deposited to perpetuate the remembrance of so distinguished a character. Father Time standing behind her, unfolding ringlets of her hair denotes that time, patience, and perseverance will accomplish all things. The white two-story building was built in the 1860s as the local Masonic Lodge, but is now home to a branch of the Savings Bank of Mendocino County. While the bank conducts business on the first floor, the local Masons still have use of the meeting room upstairs. Kathy was curious about what it looked like and brought it up on her iPad mini and showed us.

In closing, Gayle asked what we thought the title of the book meant? Someone thought it had to do with Hap teaching Anna about the stars and surviving in the wild. Someone else thought of the moment a victim's life is taken, kid's lives being snuffed out before they could shine. That was it and Gayle asked if we had anything more to add? We didn't but let her know we appreciated her leading the discussion.

As always, a good discussion. For next month, we'll be reading  28 Summers by Elin Hinderbrand, and Renee Simpson will lead the discussion. Before leaving, Kathy put in a plug for her Abundance of Love group's upcoming fundraiser, a 50s & 60s Sock Hop, to raise money to continue their work. It should be fun.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

A missing persons detective, dealing with her own trauma, goes away to grieve and there becomes involved in the case of a missing teenager. Weaving together actual cases of missing persons and trauma theory, the novel tells the story of fate, redemption and reclamation.

See you next month. Happy reading....

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