I clam up when I’m upset. It’s a frustrating problem to have because when you have someone sitting across from you willing to listen and you have so much you need to say and you just…..can’t.
I imagine I look an awful lot like guppy, my mouth just opening and closing.
What I can do though, is write about it. The vast majority of my poetry is as real as I get with strangers. The last one, Better Luck Next Year, probably the most naked I’ve ever gotten.
But sometimes I can do it with fiction.
In 2014 I wrote a book called This Is Sarah.
It was a simple story about grief, but I packed all my heartbreak, all my denial, all my sadness into a suitcase and I put in the hands of Colin, my main character, and I watched him walk away with it.
The story centers on two characters, Colin and Clare both of whom are trying to navigate the barren landscape that is life without Sarah – Colin’s girlfriend and Clare’s big sister.
When Colin Leventhal leaned out his bedroom window on the night of May 12th and said goodbye to his girlfriend, he never expected it would be forever. But when Sarah Evans goes missing that night, Colin’s world unravels as he transforms from the boyfriend next door to the main police suspect. Then one year later, at her memorial service, Colin makes a phone call that could change everything. Is it possible that Sarah is still alive? And if so, how far will he go to bring her back?
And as Colin struggles with this possibility, across the street, Sarah’s little sister Claire learns how to navigate the strange new landscape that is life without her sister. Even as her parent’s fall apart, Claire is determined to keep on going. Even if it kills her.
THIS IS SARAH is a meditation on loss, love, and what it means to say goodbye.
Sarah was for many reasons one of the easiest things I have ever written – and by easy I meant, Colin was right there in my head every time I turned toward him. I don’t know if I believe that some books write themselves but….this one wanted out.
This month, my publisher, Bookfish Books, is offering This Is Sarah for 99 cents on Amazon. I can promise you, you’re going to get a heck of a lot of emotion for less than a dollar if you take them up on it.
Here’s some things readers have said:
Sitting down to write this review, it dawned on me that in some ways Ally’s book reminds me Jodi Picoult’s work. Take that as high praise because she is one of my absolute favorite authors. Both women are capable of bringing incredibly tough and emotional material to life in the pages of their books. I am a complete sucker for a well-written book that tries to tear my heart to pieces.
The prose in this book—it’s beautiful, bordering on poetic. Not a single word is extraneous. As somber as the tone of the book is, it never feels overwrought or cloying. Every line of dialogue sounds like it would be spoken by an actual person.
So if you’re curious what to expect, this is Colin:
I get up early to run, because it’s easier in the morning. There’s no one up yet at five am, and the streets belong to me. I don’t even bring music anymore. I only want to hear the steady thwack of my sneakers on the pavement, the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the huff of air coming out of my lungs. It sets up a rhythm that allows my brain to shut off for a while so my mind stays empty.
Not thinking feels good. It’s one of the few things that still feels good.
I crest the hill at the top of Cedarhurst and pick up speed going down. My lungs feel clean and clear, and I think about sprinting the last five or six blocks back to my driveway. My energy seems a little low, but I figured I can probably push it.
The sound of my feet hitting the pavement intensifies and I pump my arms hard, small tears forming in my eyes from the wind. I clear my mind. I am no longer Colin. I’m just muscle, tissue and bone; a complex and delicate machine pushing its way against gravity and inertia, covering distance on this rock floating in the darkness of an ever-expanding space.
When Claire pulls her bike alongside me I nearly jump out of my skin. Where the hell did she come from? She pedals hard, riding off the seat, her blonde hair whipping back. She passes me and looks back and smiles. As the distance between us grows, I’m overcome with loss, and a sort of panic, like I need to catch up to her. I’m not sure what it is, but I watch her move away from me, her blonde hair streaming, her legs working the pedals and every muscle in my body screams to catch her.
Suddenly Claire is everything in the world, everything beautiful, alive, peaceful, and good, and it’s all getting away from me.
The farther she gets from me, the closer she gets to the monsters and all I want in the world is for Claire to always be safe.
Jesus Christ, I just want to be able to save one of them.
She looks back at me once and smiles before pumping the pedals again. In that moment, that small bright moment, her hair and her smile reflecting the early morning sun, she looks just like Sarah. Just like Claire looked that day in the hallway.
Suddenly I feel so hollow and empty, carved out like the husk of some dead cicada. I watch her get away from me and feel more lost than ever before. She rounds the bend and disappears from my line of sight, something inside of me snaps and I stumble forward. My feet now clumsy, my balance thrown off, until I stop, bent, heaving, coughing, spitting foam, my heart wild inside me. In my head, an image forms of Sarah when I made her laugh so hard she nearly choked on her sandwich at the diner.
That was Sarah.
Sarah and me, in a moment we won’t have again. A moment that was once real but now feels like it belonged to another life. Neither of us foresaw it ending this way.
The year before or the week before or the day before. We never saw it coming.
If I knew when she stood on that driveway, staring up at me, with me hanging out of the window looking down at her, if I knew, I would have told her everything.
And this, is Clare:
They found her red Chuck Taylor sneakers five miles from where her car was, deep in the woods.
One was unlaced, as if she had undone it and slipped her foot out of it right there under that canopy of trees.
The other was still tied.
Snow filled them like little red candies covered in sugar.
In the police station, in that evidence bag, they seemed so small, as the snow slowly melted off them, staining the fabric and dripping into the bottom of the bag. I couldn’t imagine them fitting Sarah’s feet. I couldn’t imagine them fitting my own.
Sarah’s empty shoes.
I thought about how they’d never be worn again. How she would never slide her foot inside, how her fingers would never tug those laces and loop them closed.
Her room back home was filled with things that would go unused. They’d just sit there, waiting for Sarah to come home, collecting dust.
All the things Sarah left behind.
When I saw the shoes, sitting in the police station, a noise escaped me. Not quite a sob, but a cry—a shock of disbelief—and my hope retreated as I realized I was now one of those things. Like her clothes, her jewelry, her records or her shoes.
I was just another thing Sarah left behind.
So there it is.
This is Sarah.
And if you do get, and read it, I would love to know what you think.
Peace, love and starbursts,