Jan Elizabeth Watson latest novel is a lurid, murky book that swallows the reader up in a maze of mystery. What Has Become of You is a story that is more chilling for what it implies than for what it actually reveals. Readers will find themselves drawn into this story when they are first introduced to Vera Lundy, a woman who has never quite found her place in society. Vera's story is a slow moving one but it is ultimately worth the time spent reading it.
When we meet Vera in the book she has taken a position as a long-term substitute teacher at the Wallace School, an exclusive prep school for girls in Dorsett, Maine. She has three English Literature classes and the students are studying J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.
Vera is a hesitant person, unsure of her place in the world, but she finds she likes these classes and enjoys the relationship with the students. One of these is Jensen Willard, a quiet girl but one who sends Vera extensive notes in the form of a journal. In these pages she reveals some of her most intimate thoughts. These thoughts eventually get darker and darker.
Woven into this story of a teacher and her students is a crime thriller. When Vera was growing up, a fellow student of her's was murdered. The crime was horrific and made quite an influence on her. She has studied this case for quite some time and even plans to, at some point, write a book about it. But then years later another student is killed. Once again Vera begins to obsess on the situation.
This obsession with murder seems to make its way into the minds of her students as they read Catcher in the Rye. Jensen especially seems to tune into the fact that many serial killers point to this book as having had an influence on their lives. As the dark potential of the story surfaces Vera is drawn closer and closer to the dark side of her mind.
Watson is especially good at exploring the reasons behind Vera's thoughts and actions. She seems to know this character totally but only reveals her story to the reader in small amounts. Vera remains elusive in so many ways but each bit of information Watson provides gives a little more insight into her past, her present and her future.
What Has Become of You is a story that moves at its own pace. It is written in a way that allows you to analyze each and every event as it occurs before another incident happens. This helps set the ominous tone of the story and advances the all together murky atmosphere of the plot.
This is not a book that will appeal to all readers. Its pacing is too slow and it requires a real investment of the reader's attention. Still for those who persevere through its full course the end result is satisfying.
What Has Become of You is published by Dutton. It contains 357 pages and sells for $26.95.
Jackie K Cooper