| 7 December , 2009 | Reply

Guest editor

Guest Editor, Andrea Parks

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

I was hooked into the story by Chapter One with a flashback about a character named Suz followed by the vague details of an ambiguous suicide. Unsure of what was in store and with no expectations, I plunged in and was pretty much enthralled for the next 400 pages.

The suicide is preceded, ten years earlier, by something that happened to the main characters of the story, Henry and Tess. This couple spent their final summer of college in a lakeside cabin in rural Vermont with three other fellow students. There are furtive suggestions of something tragic, dramatic and possibly violent that occurred that summer in that isolated cabin.  We find out about the “Compassionate Dismantlers” and learn of Suz, the unstable ringleader and creator of the dismantling manifesto.


We learn of another pivotal character Emma, Henry and Tess\’ nine-year old daughter, who was conceived during that summer. Emma has some quirks and a possible OCD and as a result, she is quite an interesting little girl. In some chapters, we get to follow her around, see the world through her eyes and find out what is going on in the lives of her parents, Henry and Tess. Her perception of them creates a good contrast to the toxicity that permeates her parent\’s relationship.  You grow to care about Emma but not so much her very active imaginary and intriguing friend, Danner.  Don\’t want to say too much about Danner – you\’ll find out why if you read it.

The narrative over the course of the novel is about the developing, or rather decaying, relationship of Henry and Tess. As the suspense builds, their secret unravels and is revealed to the reader bit by bit, interweaving past and present until it reaches a peak. Then it all becomes clear, and then it\’s not so clear, and then it is clear again, and then it\’s not – but in a good way. The writer is not confusing us, nor is the story difficult to follow. It is a quite delicious twisting and turning of the plot.

Some interesting ironies in the novel – Henry and Tess ride along with Suz because “Dismantlement = Freedom” – yet freedom is so far from what they gained by being a part of this group. Nine years later, Emma attempts to help Henry and Tess but only serves to dismantle their secret. Then, as a result of Emma\’s “help,” their relationship is dismantled because it is intrinsically linked to this secret and its complexities. Of course, once the truth of their mysterious past is out, they are finally free to move forward. Nice universal theme – powerful, really.

I stayed up way too late so I could finish this book and then I was too spooked to go to sleep! There was something about it that reminded me vaguely of the Lovely Bones. Part ghost story, part suspense thriller, Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon is a story with good writing and a solid, unwavering plot that keeps you engaged. I liked it and will definitely pick up her two earlier novels, Promise Not to Tell, and Island of Lost Girls. I probably would have totally loved this novel if I had personally liked the characters a bit more (except for Emma, I loved her).  And I am curious to see if I was the only reader who was unnerved by Danner.

Available now: Hachette RRP$32.95


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