Jan Elizabeth Watson received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in Maine.
Copyright © 2014 by Jan Elizabeth Watson
Standing amid the library stacks, Vera Lundy thumbed through an anthology of contemporary essays, stopping at one of her favorites— “Goodbye to All That,” by Joan Didion—and read the first line, which she already knew by heart: “It is easy to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends.” A neat, pat sentence, Vera thought, but not entirely true. Sometimes beginnings are less clear-cut than endings; sometimes, when speaking of significant events, their points of origin are not so easy to locate. She wondered if she might be able to elaborate on this idea in a future lesson plan, putting it in a real-world context that her students could relate to. The recent arrest of a local man named Ritchie Ouelette for the killing of an eleven-year-old girl, for example—would this be considered a beginning or an ending? She supposed that would depend on whom you asked.
She was about to put the book back in its proper place when the librarian with the wobbly-wheeled book cart stopped her, saying: “Please don’t reshelve that. Return any unwanted items to the circulation desk.”
As though apprehended in the middle of a far more serious offense, Vera froze, holding the book at upper shelf level. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, taking stock of the librarian, whom she saw on at least a twice-weekly basis: crisp iron-gray hair; black horn-rimmed glasses; turtleneck under a shapeless denim jumper that seemed to be the unofficial, no-nonsense uniform of all New England librarians over a certain age. “I was putting it back in the right spot, if that makes it any better.”
The librarian’s expression grew frostier, and she reiterated “We ask that all unwanted items be returned to the circulation desk” with such grim finality that Vera felt chastened.
The librarian steered her rumbling cart in the other direction. Vera was sure the woman knew her by sight, knew her to be a respectful library patron—a regular, even, who returned her books well before their due dates—but she always regarded her with the same lack of recognition. Perhaps that was just her way. But Vera was sure that this librarian was dismissive of her because of her choice in reading materials. She was always requesting true-crime books from interlibrary loan—the more lurid in content, the better—though this all fell within the framework of research: Vera was writing a manuscript of her own, an account of a homicide dating back to her freshman year in high school.
The other possibility was that the librarian mistook her for a kid. Vera was petite and round-faced, with certain demure, girlish qualities and a bit of teenage insouciance thrown in to further muddy the picture. In reality, however, she was nearly forty years old—a fact she kept from everyone but her immediate family, who already knew the truth. It did no harm, she reasoned, to tell everyone else that she was thirty-five. Thirty-five seemed a good age to stick with for a while.
She pored over the new arrivals on the library shelf one last time, contemplating the possibility of adding a fifth book to her haul, but decided to restrict it to four this week: the copy of The Catcher in the Rye that had been the purpose of her trip, two true-crime books about cannibal killers, and an obscure but promising novel about a Victorian poisoner. Four was a good number, to her thinking. She’d once read that in some cultures the number four is regard
Prase for What Has Become of You
“A precocious teenager. A teacher who can’t quite grow up. What Has Become of You is a suspenseful and tightly plotted thriller filled with vivid and memorable characters, each with her own compelling voice.” –Alafair Burge, author of If You Were Here, Long Gone, and the Ellie Hatcher series
“Part gloss on The Catcher in the Rye and part millennial The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, What Has Become of You is that rare beast: a page-turner that asks dark, difficult questions about the state of contemporary American society.” –Joanne Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age
“Watson’s twisty plot speeds with page-turner momentum, but what’s likely to stick with you are the complex characters of Vera and Jensen, who are, by turns, vulnerable, flawed, and surprising, bravely struggling to rewrite the stories of their lives.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review