The Fall of Lisa Bellow
by Susan Perabo
Simon & Schuster, March 14, 2017
Reviewed by Clifford Garstang
Susan Perabo’s new novel, The Fall of Lisa Bellow, is more than another story about a missing teenager. It’s about vision, what we choose to see, and what we ignore. Ultimately, it’s about facing facts.
Meredith Oliver is a perfectly ordinary kid, an eighth grader who is good at math, who hangs with her fellow nerds from school, is barely noticed by the cool girls except to be ridiculed for one fault or another. But when Meredith witnesses the kidnapping of popular classmate Lisa Bellow during the robbery of a local sandwich shop, she is pulled into a completely different orbit. Now Lisa’s friends are her friends. Now popular styles are her styles. Now her flaws make her unique instead of outcast.
Meredith’s life at home changes, as well. Her parents, worried that the robbery and Lisa’s disappearance have traumatized her, are at a loss. They hire a therapist. They indulge Meredith’s whims—new shoes, her favorite foods—and insist on keeping constant watch over her.
But Meredith’s trauma isn’t the only tragedy the family is dealing with. Older brother Evan, who at Meredith’s age blossomed from a pudgy kid into a star athlete, has lost sight in one eye when hit by a baseball. After the injury, he mopes and medicates, but at least he can relate to his sister. When Meredith suffers the post-traumatic effects of what she’s seen, Evan re-emerges. Despite his visual impairment, and over his mother’s objections, he begins to work out again—running, taking batting practice, tossing and catching a ball. He plans to rejoin the baseball team, but doesn’t face the reality of what has happened to him. Having vision in only one eye changes his perception, and catching the ball is nearly impossible.
Meanwhile, Claire and Mark, Meredith’s parents, are struggling, too. Mark just wants everyone to be happy. He’s supportive of both kids, despite their limitations. Claire, though, is more of a realist. She knows that Evan will never be able to play baseball again. And she knows how deeply affected Meredith is by what has happened. The problem is that she lacks the tools she needs to comfort either of her children. That creates tension for the entire family and drives a wedge between her and her husband.
Failures of vision draw the family together, even if they don’t realize it. Evan, literally, has only partial vision that obscures what he might be able to accomplish. Mark cannot or won’t see the dangers that threaten his children and his marriage. Claire perceives those dangers all too clearly but can’t see a way to avoid them. And what of Meredith?
The experience Meredith shares with Lisa Bellow gives her a kind of second sight, or so she believes. Lisa’s mother, desperate to find her daughter, insists that Meredith must have seen something at the sandwich shop that can help the police. What Meredith actually saw is of no help, but there’s something else. Now, after the fact, she can see Lisa with her abductor—in an apartment, with a dog named Annie. The scene she sees—or is she imagining it?—is so vivid, it must be real, she thinks. It’s almost as if she’s there, sharing the experience.
Perabo’s novel is gripping, not only because the reader wants to find out what has happened to Lisa Bellow, but also because Meredith’s reaction to the kidnapping raises so many questions about her own stability, and the stability of her family. This isn’t just a suspense thriller, although it’s that, too. It’s an intense psychological study of a girl in the process of discovering how to cope with the real world.