What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

The Preston family live a privileged life in 1970’s Thailand when their young son suddenly goes missing. Returning to America, their lives shattered, they try to go on, assuming Phillip is gone forever. But in 2019, he comes back. Is it him? And if it is, why did he never try to contact his family? What happened?

The book is set partly in 2019 Washington and 1970’s Bangkok, moving between now and then in chunks. It uses this format really well. It’s not alternating chapters, but several chapters, and it switches between just when you are almost figuring things out, keeping you guessing. It’s really nicely handled.

This book draws you in with it’s central mystery, but it’s the characters lives and secrets that will really get you. The author writes beautifully, and the characters all have their own stories, from where their lives are now, to how they’ve survived and what they know and remember. And it seems like there’s a lot that each character doesn’t know about the others. There’s the father and his work and the mother and her need to keep things civilised but who has her own secret wants and needs. The three children, Phillip who is struggling, Bea who is the bossy eldest but trying to keep things together, and Laura who wants to be seen and who is always the baby sister. These roles follow them in to adult life. There’s also Noi, who is a servant in their house in Thailand, and who is with them in the US too, and her story shows us the gap between the expat world and the life of the average Thai person. I really found these plotlines interesting.

The book focuses on character, and the plot is almost secondary, or perhaps you could say that there are many smaller personal stories that become more than the larger plot. This is such a rich book in this way. I found, in the end, that I felt like the outcome was almost a let down compared to the whole, and I wonder how likely the ending or resolution is? I won’t say more. It didn’t ruin the book for me at all.

I think the thing that was jarring for me was in the 2019 parts, where characters talked about “ride share”, “Fortnite” and “hashtag” a lot. Laura calls people “millennials” but they’re actually Gen Y. It was just a little like the author was trying too hard and it felt awkward.

On the whole, I really liked this one, and I’d definitely read other books but this author.

Read It If: this one has some dark themes at the end, after all, a child does go missing. But it should please those of you who love a story full of secrets, family drama and intrigue.

Thank you Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC of this book for honest review. What Could Be Saved is out today.

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