‘Choose Me’ by Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver is a glimpse into the desperation abandonment can cause

Choose Me
by Tess Garritsen and Gary Braver

Abandonment and betrayal feature predominantly in “Choose Me,” specifically as we examine the cost to those who are left suffering. Authors Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver examine how different people respond after experiencing betrayal and abandonment. How, for example, might a middle age police detective live her life after her husband dies in circumstances that can, at best, be seen as a betrayal of their marriage. How differently might a young college coed respond to being abandoned by her boyfriend after experiencing abandonment years before when her father left his family. We must also consider that the very act of having an affair, cheating on one’s wife, is certainly a kind of abandonment — an abandonment of sacred commitments, of promises, of moral values, and even of common human decency.

The story is presented in two timelines: BEFORE and AFTER. And in each timeline, the points of view are clearly delineated at the beginning of each section, so we know if we are reading from Frankie’s point of view or one of the other characters’. Frankie is the Boston detective who is on the scene after the supposed suicide of Taryn Moore, a beautiful young college student with a promising future. We learn right away that Taryn had been heating a frozen mac and cheese dinner right before she died, which seems strange for someone so despondent that she would commit suicide before eating the hot meal. We also learn that she wrote an essay titled, “Hell Hath No Fury: Violence and the Scorned Woman.” Little do we understand at that point the importance of that essay and the irony of its title.

The whole story is shared from the three points of view, those of Frankie and Taryn, both women who understand abandonment, and Jack, the college professor, who teaches a seminar for seniors titled, “Star-Crossed Lovers.” In this small seminar, the students read classics like The Aeneid, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, Medea, and Romeo and Juliet. The seminar was created by Jack, and he thought of it as “a sexy package of love, lust, and ultimate tragedy.” Irony in the extreme considering what will transpire between Jack and Taryn, his most dedicated student.

The authors don’t pull any punches when they introduce Taryn. We learn immediately that she has no compunction about entering her ex-boyfriend Liam’s apartment using the key she never returned. She snoops around, and there is something disturbing about her inability or refusal to admit that their relationship is over, perhaps because Liam is the second man in Taryn’s life to betray her, her father having left his family years before. And Taryn and Liam have been together through high school and almost four years of college. It had been understood that they would have a life together. Taryn had been counting on it, and Liam has betrayed her.

Now Taryn is dead. Her body fell five stories to the pavement below her apartment on a cold and windy night. Her cell phone is nowhere to be found, and if not for that strange fact, the detectives would have labeled her death a suicide without a second thought. But Frankie, the mother of two teenagers, knows how important their phones are to them. Where is Taryn’s phone? Why is it not in the apartment or broken into pieces on the concrete pavement below? As overworked as Frankie is, she is determined to find out what really happened to Taryn and to get justice for her.

All of the characters have their flaws, some flaws immediately more apparent than those of others. Jack is a sympathetic character until we see his fatal flaw. His marriage is strained by his physician wife’s horribly long working hours. It leaves them little time together, and although they have wanted children, her most recent miscarriage was emotionally devastating for them both. So when the young and beautiful Taryn throws herself at Jack, we can understand why temptation rears its ugly head. We cannot forgive how he goes through with the infidelity. Really, as understanding as we might want to be, there’s no excuse for Jack’s behavior.

Taryn is not a very sympathetic character as we watch her clever, dispassionate ability to use those around her. Her life-long insecurity from being from the wrong side of the tracks isn’t enough to overcome our repugnance at her behavior, her desire for revenge, her selfishness and complete narcissism.

Then there’s Frankie. She just plods along, never taking a vacation, always worrying about her daughters and their nights out. Wanting to do the right thing for Taryn. There are also the characters who might have a reason to want Tara dead. What about Cody, the unattractive friend of Taryn who would do anything for her—but at what cost? We may not like any of the main characters, but we can admire them and pity them for their faults, and—most of all—want to know what really happened to Taryn.

This solid mystery forces us to consider not just the significance and validity of the #MeToo movement but the aftermath of such an affair. What about vengeance? What is justice? Is Jack as bad as others who might use positions of power for sexual conquests? Does it ultimately matter? And what about forgiveness? Can the characters—all of those left alive, forgive others in their lives for acts of betrayal? These kinds of questions and reflections are of the sort that make all of us better individuals. How much should forgiveness play a role in our lives? What would we have done if we were in the same situation as those in the novel?

Please note: This review first appeared in Bookreporter.com.