My favorite lines in Jessica Strawser’s novel “Not That I Could Tell” are: “For once, I just want there to be a story with a happily-ever-after that does not involve ending up with a love interest. Do you think that’s possible?”
Her character, Izzy, a radio show producer struggling with her lack-of-love life, posed this question to her friend and neighbor Clara.
“Absolutely,” responds Clara, a stay-at-home mom of two.
Strawser’s novel, which is what you’d want from a rom-com if it were actually based on real life, is proof of it.
By all means, Strawser’s novel passes the Bechdel test, starring a legion of women — mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and neighbors who genuinely seem to care about each other, and talk to each other about things other than men.
In the span the 336-pages of “Not That I Could Tell,” most of these whispered conversations revolve around women, or rather, one woman in particular: Kristin Kirkland, the mother of two four-year-old twins. The three of them and a million-dollar life insurance payout mysteriously went missing, becoming day-after-day front page coverage in Yellow Springs, Ohio (whose most famous resident includes comedian Dave Chappelle).
The main suspect is a man, Kristin’s estranged soon-to-be ex-husband Dr. Paul Kirkland, an obstetrician-gynecologist who moved back into Kristin’s house after her and her kids’ disappearance. But he’s just a obscure supporting character in Jessica Strawser’s drama.
The leads are all strong and likable female characters from: Izzy and Clara to their neighbors, Natalie; Natalie’s precocious 12-year-old daughter Hallie; and lesbians Randi and Rhonda.
Through Strawser’s words, you come to care for this army of women who don’t blame Kristin for kidnapping her kids or for leaving (if that’s what really happened). They just hope that Kristin and Aaron and Abigail aren’t hurt or dead.*
Their friendships are the reason you should be reading “Not That I Could Tell.” And these women are how happily-ever-afters without love interests are possible.
Now if only we could see more female-dominated narratives like this in films, movies or television shows….
* Since we don’t know if Kristin is dead or injured, “Not That I Could Tell” also passes the Women in Refrigerator test on a technicality.
Disclaimer: I received a free eARC of “Not That I Could Tell” by Jessica Strawser from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.