By Josie E. Davis
Imagine your 15 year old son, well behaved but departing – perhaps faster than you expect – into his years of teen rebellion. Now imagine yourself. Full time mother and wife, part-time teacher and dedicated member of the local PTA. Dedicated, as Elizabeth Searle explores in her latest novel, to protecting.
Based on a true story (see video), Girl Held In Home is a thrilling reflection of post 9/11 suburban America, capturing the small encounters which make every day life appear inconsequential. The fourth and most recent novel published by author Elizabeth Searle, the story trails two families and one young girl held hostage in the basement of the neighborhood Muslim “terrorist cell,” as lives are quickly entwined in the days following September 11 with the desire to break free from familial obligation.
What I love about this book is the conviction of Searle’s leading narrators, Maura and Joezy, to achieve their goals. Searle doesn’t guarantee her characters all they are after, but she offers the reader the same promise she gives her characters – hope. “I did what I could; I’ll do what I can; I did what I could,” remarks Joezy, Searle’s asthma struck super-hero smitten coming of age teen, reflecting upon his own insurmountable attempt at rescuing – and protecting – the one he loves.
“We are all hostages, and we are all terrorists,” writes Jean Boudrillard in the aftermath of 9/11 just a decade ago. This dichotomy is what Searle uncovers, as Maura, dedicated mother and teacher, catches herself in the midst of a stumbling marriage and the affections of another woman. “Mara,” Searle writes, is the new love of Frannie, the lesbian PTA mom, who embraces Mara for the woman she is instead of the wife she decides to be. And yet, Maura is dedicated, as are all the characters in Searle’s book, to defending themselves and each other. There is One, the Vietnamese maid and hostage, whose choppy bangs and large white teeth are the fond reminders that she will do anything to live in the land of the free; and Rakeen, Muslim “terrorist trick-or-treater” and “man of the house,” an innocent yet provocative threat, guardian, and dutiful brother and son.
Released this fall with New Rivers Press, Girl Held in Home is a close look at how affection is altered by expectation, by experience, and the absence of what we already know. The book challenges us to be patient, just like its characters need patience to remove themselves from circumstance and imagine what, exactly, is going to happen next. But, as I was reminded recently, isn’t developing patience the purpose of a great book? If so, Searle has outdone herself. My appreciation for Searle’s writing grows as the book “rat tats” onward, like the urgent pacing of Maura’s heels up the sidewalk, the swoosh of Sheila Jester’s boob job making headway across the PTA fundraiser gym floor, or the slicing of a sword into the basement air, gripped by a small, yet feisty, teenage boy. Girl Held In Home is a brushstroke of cultural politics, and while I can’t always agree with Searle in tone or pitch, it’s not Searle who I’m arguing with in my head. Because after all, this is just fiction.
Josie E. Davis is the Managing Editor of PLOP!. She is an artist and consultant based in Chicago, IL. Her most recent work can be viewed at Davis & Strathmann.com.