Book Review: “Strangers We Know” by Elle Marr

Who are we? Where do we come from? I don’t ask these questions in terms of the bigger questions in terms of where all life came from, but more in terms of our own life. Most of us know the answers. We know who our parents are. We know who are siblings are. Some will take an interest in the genealogy of their family, and be able to trace a family tree back for many generations. For others, this is of less interest or consequence, although, as in Japan (and I discuss in Dealing with Disaster in Japan, for example) the link to ancestors can play a role on a regular basis for some. My personal interest in my family tree is limited, though, undoubtedly, the fact that I have Swedish ancestry on one side of the family helped me pick Swedish as a language to learn on Duolingo and may have also impacted some of my musical preferences – which also made its way into my novel FOUR (see also “FOUR” and its Swedish Links).

But not everyone has the knowledge of their family. In particular those who are adopted may not know much, if anything, about their birth family. I don’t know many who are adopted, but can imagine that some may feel a pull to learn more about their birth family, regardless of how happy their lives with their adopted family have been. In the past year, it was interesting to re-read the brilliant autobiography of Brian Nash (formerly of the pop group Frankie Goes To Hollywood) (see Book Review: “Nasher Says Relax” by Brian Nash), who was adopted, and then meet him and find out how in recent years he did, despite what he wrote in the autobiography, decide to find out more about his birth family. It was upon this background that I could connect with and understand the motivations of the protagonist in Strangers We Know.

Strangers We Know is by one of my favourite authors, Elle Marr. I really enjoyed both Lies We Bury and The Missing Sister, and Strangers We Know is another excellent read. It has similarities with some aspects of the previous two books – but contains less underground (in the literal sense) than the previous two.

The book is primarily set in north-west USA – just as another book that I recently read, No Place To Run by my favourite author, Mark Edwards, is. The overlaps don’t end there. I won’t say much about the content so that there are no spoilers here – but while there is a Mayor Hood in No Place To Run, Strangers We Know has a passing mention of Mount Hood, which amused me.

There were a few lines and ideas that stood out from Strangers We Know for me. First was the text that asked “But is the confirmation of approaching death a gift? Or a curse?” These are questions that I have often wondered about – although not from a personal perspective necessarily. The next quotation I can relate to much more;

Anecdotal evidence and ancient religions suggest that the moon affects the brain the same way it affects the waves in the ocean—since our brains are composed of so much water. The theory is that the moon then pulls on us, makes people act batty once a month.

While I hope that I don’t go “batty” once a month, I do tend to get bad migraines with full moons. I don’t care if some say that it is merely coincidence or suggest that there cannot be any link – that we are largely sacks of water (as I seem to remember coming up as a term in an episode of “Star Trek”) and the moon, as Marr notes, can impact the oceans, it seems ridiculous to me to think that the moon cannot impact the relatively small amount of liquid that each of us are in comparison.

One other line I would like to mention is “I smile, recognizing Lottie’s love language: feeding people.” – I don’t know why, but this one made me smile too. I’ve not come across this idea of a “love language” before, but I really liked it and what it was for this person.

Anyway, I love almost everything about the Strangers We Know. As with all novels, there are bits where believability is pushed a bit, but I have no issue with this. The book is well written and engaging enough to look past this. No, rather than the contents, the one thing I have a slight niggle with is the front cover. The person just doesn’t seem to quite to match up with what I picture the protagonist being like. It’s a great picture. I thought it was great when I first got the book. Most of the time after that (as I was reading on Kindle) I didn’t see the image so I didn’t think about it. It was only after reading the book and seeing it again that I thought that it didn’t quite fit. But, let’s face it, if the only quibble with a book is the cover, then you know you’ve read a really good book.

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