The Year of Fog – Book Review

This is what I tell them, this is what I know: I was walking on the beach with Emma. It was cold and very foggy. She let go of my hand. I stopped to photograph a seal pup, then glanced up toward the Great Highway. When I looked back, she was gone. -From The Year of Fog, page 7-

Abby Mason, a photographer, is about to be married to Jake – a handsome school teacher – and become a stepmother to Jake’s adorable, green-eyed daughter Emma. For Abby becoming a mother is a leap of faith, something she was not sure she could ever do, and yet she has fallen in love with not only Jake but with Emma as well. And so having Emma to herself for a weekend while Jake is out of town feels wonderful…until a moment on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach when, in a dense and swirling fog, Abby looks away for a second and Emma disappears.

The Year of Fog begins on that fateful day with the first hours and days of the official search and media blitz. As the days turn into weeks and then months, many reach the conclusion that Emma has drowned – including her father – and all that is left is Abby’s certainty, her mother’s instinct, that Emma is still alive.

Each day is a microcosm, a snapshot of the search in miniature. Each day begins with conviction and confidence: conviction that I’m pursuing the correct path, confidence that I will soon find her through a combination of logic and perseverance. -From The Year of Fog, page 314-

Michelle Richmond has written a book about guilt, fear, memory and hope. In Abby, she captures the raw emotions of making a mistake with dire consequences and the obsession to right the wrong.  Richmond explores the confusing science of memory as Abby struggles to put together the pieces of what she may (or may not) have seen in order to solve the mystery of Emma’s disappearance.  Perception and memory become intertwined with Abby’s art of photography and Richmond’s writing in these sections is poetic and beautifully wrought.

We put such faith in this flimsy mnemonic device, a moment written in light. But photos provide a false sense of security. Like our own flawed memory, they are guaranteed to fade. Over time, the contrasts within a photo diminish, the contours soften, the details blur. We take photographs in order to remember, but it is in the nature of a photograph to forget. -From The Year of Fog, page 157-

We take pictures because we know we will forget. We will forget the week, the day, the hour. We will forget when we were happiest. We take pictures out of pride, a desire to have the best of ourselves preserved. We fear that we will die and others will not know that we lived. -From The Year of Fog, page 338-

Richmond’s novel enthralls the reader from beginning to end. It is a page turner which begs to be read in one long gulp. It is a literary rollercoaster ride of despair and hope, joy and sadness. Richmond weaves together a convincing story of a family on the verge of destruction and one woman’s determination to find the child she loves. It is rare when a writer is able to make the reader feel what the protagonist feels on every level – but, that is exactly what Richmond does in The Year of Fog. I was breathless, my heart racing, with the desperate urge to find Emma.  As a volunteer in Search and Rescue for more than ten years, I was reminded of the actual searches I have been on – the sense of urgency, the conviction that the lost person must be just around the next corner, the fear that giving up the search might be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made.

The Year of Fog is a gripping tale, one skillfully written which will haunt and exhilarate the reader.

Highly recommended.

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    • Michele on November 10, 2008 at 10:15

    Okay…this one is going to the top of my list. Not sure if it’s the subject matter or what, but the quotes you chose cinched it for me…I must read this!

    • Sandra on November 10, 2008 at 10:19

    I’m adding this to my tbr list. I can see why this subject would have a lot of interest for you. And I love your header. I take it some of them are Search and Rescue dogs? What a fascinating thing to be involved in.

  1. this sounds like another great read for the TBR list!

    • Diane on November 10, 2008 at 12:27

    I read this one when it was first released and thought it was very good. I think I rated it a 4/5 at that time. Your review is excellent. Somehow this story in some ways (if I am recalling it correctly) reminds me of Stewart O’Nan’s new book: Songs of the Missing which was really good as well.

  2. Lovely, lovely review that has tempted me to wishlist this book and buy it when I can afford to.

    Thanks, Wendy.

    • Sari on November 10, 2008 at 12:51

    Wow, what a review! I normally do not read books with this theme, but after reading your review I must read this one. I want to know what happened to poor Emma!!
    The quote about memories really got to me. We do forget the most important parts of our lives and photographs are a way to keep us connected to the milestones that happen to us.
    A well written book can bring up past emotions just as a well timed picture can. From your review it sounds like this is such a book.

    • Beth F on November 10, 2008 at 13:05

    Thanks for the review. I’m definitely adding this one to the pile.

    • Dawn on November 10, 2008 at 14:00

    Excellent review; thanks, Wendy!

    And a note for Sari: if memory interests you, you might like *The Madonnas of Leningrad* (Debra Dean)

  3. Wow, this is a fantastic review! I definitely want to read this book now!

    • Elizabeth M. on November 10, 2008 at 16:51

    Your review was excellent and since I’m a mother, I can so relate to what she’s feeling. Although this situation isn’t like anything I’ve ever had to deal with thankfully, the issues underlying the story are universal and I would very much like to read this as I’m sure, like you, I’ll be completely caught up in it and unable to put it down.

    • Kim on November 10, 2008 at 17:56

    Hi Wendy–
    I am trying to tie up loose ends (very late I am sad to say) and I realized that either I never received your snail mail address or I did and then deleted it. Consequently I haven’t been able to mail you the book you won during the read-a-thon…I warned you I am running late on this… and I am very sorry– life has gotten in the way. Anyway, if you still want A Good Distance can you email me? My email is: kimmery4 at yahoo dot com

    • Wendy on November 10, 2008 at 21:07

    Michele: I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did…

    Sandra: Both the German Shepherd and the Golden Retriever in my header are certified search and rescue dogs…although they are now retired! Caribou is my shepherd – she is my girl, my partner, and my most loyal dog EVER!

    Serena: It is, it is!

    Diane: *nods* Yes, it is a bit like O’Nan’s book…although I think Richmond delves even deeper into her protagonist’s mindset.

    Gayla: Thank you 🙂

    Sari: Yes, on all levels! Thank you for your compliments. This is a great book and so well written. I think you will enjoy it (and you will DEFINITELY want to read it straight through to uncover the mystery!)

    You’re welcome, Beth – Hope you’ll love it!

    Dawn: Thank you – and I agree with you about Madonnas. Also The Story of Forgetting is a fantastic novel about memory.

    Avisannschild: Thank you!

    Elizabeth: As a mother, I think this will touch you deeply. It is definitely a page-turner.

    Kim: I emailed you my snail mail tonight 🙂 Yes, I still want the book *smiles*

    • Anna on November 10, 2008 at 22:01

    Wow! This sounds like a great read. Definitely adding this one to my list.

    • Teddy on November 11, 2008 at 00:39

    Wonderful review Wendy. You just keep on adding to my TBR!

    • lenore on November 11, 2008 at 01:02

    You pulled some amazing quotes. No One You Know is full of them too.

    • Dana on November 11, 2008 at 14:46

    my Fl Bff walked in my house today and gave me this book! WOOT! Please withdraw my name from the contest and let some other lucky person have it. I am TOTALLY excited to start it

    • Joanne on November 12, 2008 at 22:48

    Oh my goodness, this book sounds amazing. What an emotional read it must be. I know that as a mother my heart stops when I lose sight of my own kids for even a second, but I can’t imagine the other feelings that would hit you if someone else’s child disappeared while in your care.

    • Wendy on November 14, 2008 at 10:23

    Anna: I hope you’ll love it as I did!

    Teddy: Thanks! Just doing my job to keep your TBR mountain reaching for the sky!

    Lenore: I am definitely planning on reading No One You Know…Richmond’s use of language is fantastic so it is easy to find those quotes!!

    Dana: Yay for you!!! Hope you’ll love it!

    Joanne: This book is full of those emotions…very, very well done!

    • Jennifer on November 15, 2008 at 18:30

    Thank you Wendy for allowing me to read this book. It was very well written and as those before me have commented, your review does capture the intensity of the this book to it’s fullest. As a divorced mother, this book wraps you in to all the emotions of the character Abby and then some. I highly recommend this book as well.

    • Wendy on November 16, 2008 at 14:17

    Jennifer: My pleasure 🙂 It is always gratifying to see that another reader had the same reaction to a book as I did! Thanks for stopping by…can’t wait to see how you like (or not) the other books I gave you to read!!

    • Vanja on March 11, 2009 at 12:30

    This was one of the worst books I have ever read. It should have been called the Pain and the Yearning. The whole book….Pain and Yearning….terrible, just terrible!

    • Wendy on March 11, 2009 at 14:17

    Vanja, Thanks for stopping by. I guess you and I like different books – I loved this book. Besides calling it terrible, what specifically didn’t you like?

    • Herman Ormophi on August 6, 2011 at 13:20

    Well, that’s quite a review and… Vanja’s comment are at the other end of the spectrum. But, I notice that there’s not one comment from a male reader. So, here goes. Yes…. this was a well written, exciting story. It’s really what I’d call a “girly book”. But, let’s face it, that was probably one of the most ridiculous (nice word for lousy) endings I’ve read. Perhaps half way through the book I had the distinct feeling that Ms. Richmond was in “manufacturing mode”. Thinking of what to write next on each page. Worth reading, very much so… exciting, very much so….. disappointing, very much so.

    • Wendy on August 6, 2011 at 15:00

    Herman: Thanks for being the sole male weighing in here 🙂 I’m not sure I’d label this “girly” BUT, I do think it probably appeals more widely to a female audience. I actually did not mind the ending (although I am hearing more and more people feel the way you do). I think because of my background in search and rescue, this book really spoke to me (it is always a fantasy of SAR personnel to get that happy ending!). Although we disagree on some points, I think we agree on others…thanks for stopping by!

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