March 10, 2014
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
In 1990, two-year-old Melissa Warren goes missing from her family's tent in the middle of the night while camping in northern B.C. The family dog has been found killed and the authorities suspect a sow grizzly may have taken Melissa who was prone to waking early. Or she may have fallen in the river. There is no definitive answer. Melissa's five-year-old sister Clarice could offer no help, something that seemed to frustrate their mother. Twelve years later, mom and dad have split, dad has remarried and has a new daughter. Mom has spent much of those years volunteering at Child Find in the hopes of solving Melissa's disappearance. Meanwhile Clarice has become the unmanageable teen who craves even a portion of the attention her mother still bestows on her missing child.
Finding Melissa alternates between Clarice's first person reminiscences of that June camping trip and her current struggles and two other narratives. One set of narratives, titled Leesa, shares the spring and summer happenings in the life of a young teen who lives in northern Alberta with her old-fashioned Aunt Rosie, having been deposited there after Leesa's mother and then her father, Rosie's brother Hector, abandoned the child. But, a third set of accounts, appropriately in bold font, recount the twisted actions and thinking of Hector Weldon, focusing on his drug trafficking, his incarceration and his horrific plans for Leesa.
Each of their lives begin to unravel at the twelve year mark. First, Clarice has flashbacks about seeing Melissa leave the tent that night and spotting an extra set of headlights in the campground. What better way to appease the guilt of not remembering those details earlier than volunteering at Child Find and establishing detailed databases to allow for cross-referencing? For Leesa, who has been plagued by nightmares, a live-in babysitting stint for Rhonda and Peter Friesen and their two children, Aggie, 5, and Dawson, 1, has her exposed to the dysfunctional machinations of the Friesen family. In response, Leesa is determined to be spunky and do what's right for both children, but especially Aggie. But Leesa will also need that spunk to deal with Hector. Newly released from prison, Hector, appropriately shortened to Heck, starts coming around, intending to take Leesa away from Aunt Rosie.
Finding Melissa is a riveting story that takes an old missing child case and escalates it to thriller as Clarice, Leesa and Heck's stories begin to converge. However, the anticipation of that convergence is not rife with hope and a happy ending. There are too many secrets and deceit and hard feelings at play to lead to a gratifying resolution for all characters. Cora Taylor plays off her characters' needs for love and support, sometimes sincere, sometimes misplaced and occasionally manipulative. And what if there is conflict between those who give you love and those who are family? Clarice and her parents, Leesa and Aunt Rosie and Heck, Aggie and her parents–all their lives are in flux by virtue of their relationships, both perceived and real, and by choosing to move forward with that instability or fight it will make all the difference. Cora Taylor gets it right for her characters, especially for the repugnant Heck.