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What Remains of Me

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Written by Alison Gaylin, narrated by Ann Marie Lee – If, as the Bible says, the sins of the fathers will be visited on their children, this story is the proof of it. It’s set in two time periods, 1980 and 2010, among a small group of Hollywood teenagers. They’re about 17 in 1980 and nearing 50 in 2010, with a whole lot of water under the bridge in between.

The three friends – Kelly, Bellamy, and Vee – come from vastly different backgrounds. Kelly is barely middle class, while Vee is the son of legendary movie director John McFadden and Bellamy and her younger brother Shane are the children of movie megastar Sterling Marshall.

Kelly is the principal point-of-view character, and Gaylin develops her with careful attention to her emotional state in the tumultuous situation that surrounds her. Even during the angsty teen years, she’s three-dimensional. Her parents are divorced and barely making it. Her father is a Hollywood stunt man, and her mother, Ruth, works in the cosmetics department of department store I Magnin. Kelly is a twin, but her sister Catherine embraced the Hollywood whirl and killed herself at 15. Ruth is understandably determined that Kelly not hang with the fast-living Hollywood kids. If you’ve ever had teenagers, you know her opposition will naturally drive 17-year-old Kelly right into the arms of Bellamy and Vee.

Bellamy and Vee are rich kids whose actions bring few consequences. None of the three are very well supervised. They smoke, drink, use drugs, skip school, and Vee even steals his dad’s gun and they shoot up a dumpster. Gaylin dwells on the substance abuse and resultant bad decision-making more than necessary, as there’s not much new there. Even so, it’s the parents whose problems run deepest, under the shiny surface.

Teenager Kelly Michelle Lund – as the media will call her – after ingesting more than a few illegal substances, goes to a movie wrap party at the McFadden home. Before the party ends, McFadden is murdered – shot three times, once right between the eyes. Vee disappears and Kelly, thanks to a weak legal team, is convicted of the crime.

After 25 years in prison, Kelly has been out for five years and is trying to rebuild her life. While incarcerated, she engaged in a deep correspondence with Shane Marshall, and they married before her release. However, her friendship with Bellamy is past tense. When Sterling Marshall is murdered in much the same way as McFadden was, the media and the police immediately suspect Kelly.

In Gaylin’s twisting plot, every significant character has secrets, and they are ingeniously linked, so that just as you think you understand what’s going on, a new revelation turns the tables. It’s certainly true that nothing is as Kelly thought it was when she was a teenager. Only by considerable effort and a series of unexpected events can the adult Kelly sort out the truth. While the plot mostly holds, the late confrontation between Kelly and Bellamy is excessively contrived.

Hollywood is the perfect backdrop for a story in which nothing is as it seems – it’s a place where you shouldn’t look behind the curtain. Throughout the story, characters repeatedly suggest that powerful Hollywood folk can do whatever they please, without consequences. That may have been true when the studios’ star system was in place and bad behavior was protected, but that ended well before 1980. Following that presumption certainly makes the story’s secrets easier to keep.

Voice talent Ann Marie Lee does a nice job evoking both the teens and the parents. She might have tried more mature voices for Kelly and Bellamy at age 47, but that’s a minor quibble of an overall fine reading.

Arrow
Audiobook/Print/Kindle/iBook
£18.99

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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