“I think all married men are a little unhappy, secretly, at least the ones who marry young.”
William Landay’s All That is Mine I Carry With Me begins with author Phil Solomon stymied when it comes to the subject of his next book until childhood friend, Jeff contacts him and suggests a topic: in 1975, Jeff’s mother, Jane Larkin vanished without a trace. Her husband Dan, a prominent attorney, was the prime suspect, but he was never charged with the crime. Phil decides to write the book and interviews many of those involved in the case including: Jane’s three children, Alex, Miranda and Jeff, the lead detective on the case, Glover, who is convinced that Dan is guilty, and Jane’s sister, Kate.
The novel is divided into 4 sections “books,” and the story unfolds over decades through various points of view. The main gist of the book is the permanent impact the crime/disappearance left on the children who are raised by the man who may or may not be their mother’s killer. The Larkins seemed like a storybook family, but under the shiny, wholesome surface, there are hints of trouble.
The story is somewhat uneven. The section concerning Miranda, Jane’s daughter, the youngest child, the first one home from school to find her mother absent, is particularly strong and moving. This is a little girl who grows up without her mother and in a sense without her father too–since she suspects he is responsible for her mother’s disappearance. Her life is tainted not just by the absence and disappearance of her mother, plus the question whether or not her mum is even alive, but also her life is also stained by the fact that her father is a suspect. Miranda, Glover, Jeff and Kate may live their lives but they will always partly be “stuck in time, looking for [Jane] while the rest of the world moved on.” Dan certainly moves forward with his life in spite of the BIG QUESTION about his missing wife hanging over his head. He isn’t a nice man. At all. Here he is on the subject of marriage:
“I’m just being honest here. The men I know–Okay, think of it like this: a young man is like a rising stock, like IBM or Coke. And the stock gets sold too soon, while it’s still going up. So what happens? The guy looks around, eight, ten, fifteen years later, and what does he say? He says, ‘I sold too low. I should have held out. I’m worth more than I got’ ”
Kate: “the woman, in your little metaphor, she’s a sinking stock. She’s worth less, eight or ten years in.”
“No, well–what she’s worth–well, yes. But look, this isn’t just me talking, this is society, this is what we’re taught. And let’s be honest, if we’re looking at men and women as a marketplace, as assets, in pure economic terms, then yes, our society assigns a higher value to a young sexy woman than to a middle-aged woman. […] A woman is sold closer to her peak value than a man. Before she begins to depreciate.“
For this reader, the characters are the book’s strongest point. Jane, Kate, Dan, Miranda, Glover were well developed, incredibly believable characters–so much so that this reads like a true-crime book. The weakness for me is in the novel’s structure. The beginning half of the book was very strong, and I couldn’t stop reading. But then the plot lost momentum. I notice other reviewers feel the opposite–many preferred the second half of the book. In spite of my quibble regarding the book’s structure, I am still thinking about it. …
I just finished watching the TV series Defending Jacob based on the book by this author, and I have a feeling that we will see this book on the screen too.