Deborah Henderson’s THE MISSING PIECES is a disorienting page-turner, leading readers into the mind of a woman trying to understand her traumatic past and find a way into a less-painful future. With the help of devoted friends and against the shadowy figures of her past, THE MISSING PIECES vividly portrays how one’s inner demons can distort reality. Each chapter stitches together disjointed memories with a through-line story, that of Bobby, our (variously reliable) narrator trying to understand her dark past and find a future.
Stylistically, Henderson’s writing can be inconsistent. Some settings are beautifully rendered, like the inherited country home of her love interest, Tyler. Others are flat, so it can be hard to get a sense of the passage of time or transitions between locations. But the author’s portrayals of Bobby’s nightmares—recurring, horrifying dreams that form a narrative backbone, vaguely sitting in the space between actual recollected experiences and simple derivatives of her PTSD—are at once vivid and agonizing. Forgetting and uncertainty about the past are themes throughout, but so too is the motif of sexual violence. Whether dreams or actual experiences, Bobby’s brutal abuse is described bluntly; these passages make her trauma feel more-grounded than some of the more fantastical or trite sections of the book, also making them among the better-written passages.
A reader’s mileage, however, will vary greatly depending on their ability to engage with these sections deeply. THE MISSING PIECES can be an extremely difficult read—which may be the point—but readers must know this is a frequent touchstone before entering the story blindly. Other story elements mirror the uncomfortable sexual-relational boundary issues of Bobby’s past; her alternately patient/sexual relationship with a mental health professional is emblematic. Pacing, generally, feels extremely rushed for a novel pushing near 500 pages – Bobby’s relationship with Tyler, for instance, blooms over a matter of two weeks which, for a woman grappling with PTSD, sends up more than a few red flags.
In the end, THE MISSING PIECES is a promising tale of finding redemption while rebuilding one’s life following unthinkable traumas, and it clearly shows Henderson’s skill in dealing with difficult subjects. Henderson’s writing would benefit from a closer edit, removing some redundancies in the imagery and the patterns of characters’ behavior to add some variety, as well as leaning into showing, not telling the subtext (such as Bobby’s PTSD).
Author Deborah Henderson knows how to write a quintessential psychological mystery page-turner and shines when she digs into the friendships at the core of her protagonist’s life, but bits of characterization and too-frequent repetition of imagery needlessly logjam the flow in THE MISSING PIECES.
~Andy Carr for IndieReader