In the tranquil suburbs of Chicago, a series of disappearances unravels the dark underbelly of an apparently idyllic community in Mary Kubica’s 2021 thriller, “Local Woman Missing.”
This non-linear narrative brings to us the world of intrigue, seen through the eyes of multiple characters, revealing a story of suburban malaise, trauma, and the consequences of deception.
At the heart of this tale is Meredith Dickey, a dedicated doula and mother, whose life spirals into chaos following a barrage of anonymous, threatening texts. The source of these messages is her neighbor, Cassandra Hanaka.
Fueled by a mistaken belief that Meredith is having an affair with her husband, Marty—an old college flame of Meredith—Cassandra’s actions shatter their once amicable relationship.
As tensions rise, Meredith’s professional life also takes a hit. She is embroiled in a lawsuit, set to testify against Dr. Feingold, an obstetrician accused of malpractice during the delivery of Shelby Tebow’s baby.
Amidst this turmoil, Meredith plans a quiet dinner to confide in her husband, Josh, about the Hanakas and the lawsuit. However, an impromptu celebration with their neighbors, Kate and Bea, for Bea’s 30th birthday, leads to an unforeseen tragedy.
Drunk and disoriented, Meredith and Bea, in a devastating accident, strike and kill Shelby Tebow. In a panic, Bea persuades Meredith to conceal Shelby’s body. This decision marks the beginning of a harrowing journey, as Bea, driven by desperation, frames Shelby’s husband, Jason, for her death.
The plot takes a darker turn when Meredith’s overwhelming guilt becomes a threat to Bea. In a chilling act, Bea murders Meredith, disguising it as a suicide, and abducts Meredith’s six-year-old daughter, Delilah, who had witnessed the attack.
Delilah, hidden in the attic of Bea’s converted music studio, becomes the centerpiece of a mystery that lingers for over a decade.
Eleven years later, the narrative introduces Eddie and Martha Cutter, a pair of criminals who kidnap a young girl, Carly Byrd, and brainwash her into believing she is Delilah. Carly’s eventual escape and mistaken identity as Delilah leads her to the Dickey household, now occupied by Josh and his son Leo.
A concealed DNA test result perpetuates the charade until Leo, aided by Piper Hanaka, uncovers the truth.
The climax unfolds with high tension as Carly flees the Dickey home. Concurrently, the police, following new leads, discover the real Delilah in Bea’s attic studio. The story culminates in a bittersweet reunion for Delilah with her father and brother, while Carly finds her way back to her own family.
Bea’s apprehension brings a semblance of closure, yet the novel closes on a note reflecting the enduring scars left by the events, a poignant commentary on the lasting impact of trauma and deceit.
Meredith’s narrative is the story’s backbone, detailing events leading to her untimely demise. A petite yet fiercely determined woman, she is a doula by passion, not need, pouring her energy into supporting women during their most vulnerable moments.
As a mother, she juggles her professional commitments with familial responsibilities, often feeling torn between the two. Her tragic flaw lies in her struggle with moral dilemmas, most notably when she succumbs to Bea’s plan to hide a grave accident.
Meredith’s ultimate decision to face the truth epitomizes her inner strength and moral fortitude.
As a veterinarian, Kate brings kindness and thoughtfulness into her interactions, both with animals and people.
Her partnership with Bea is marked by passivity and conventionalism, contrasting Bea’s dominant personality. Despite her often neurotic and fearful disposition, Kate remains oblivious to the real danger in her home, highlighting the irony of her fears.
Her world is upended by the revelation of Bea’s actions, throwing her into a state of shock and heartbreak, a testament to the fragility of trust and the impact of betrayal.
Leo’s journey is one of growth and introspection. Outwardly harsh and critical, he prefers the black-and-white world of mathematics to the complexities of human emotions.
His initial disdain for his father and Carly evolves as he confronts his own vulnerabilities and loneliness, particularly highlighted in the contrasting timelines. His gradual acceptance and admiration of Carly symbolize his personal growth and the shedding of his prejudices.
Beatrice a.k.a. “Bea”
Bea’s transformation from a vibrant, assertive partner to a perpetrator of heinous acts positions her as the novel’s antagonist. Her decisions, driven by a desperate need for self-preservation, lead to devastating consequences.
Despite her apparent change from a carefree individual to a more burdened soul, her character remains largely static, consistently prioritizing self-justification over remorse, even in the face of ultimate accountability.
Josh’s character arc poignantly illustrates the lingering effects of trauma. From a successful, confident man to one shattered by his wife’s death and daughter’s disappearance, his journey is heart-wrenching.
His obsession with finding Delilah and subsequent struggle with Carly’s mistaken identity underscore the profound impact of loss and grief. His slow path to healing, less resilient than his children’s, adds a layer of realism to the narrative.
Carly’s mistaken identity as Delilah weaves a complex subplot into the narrative. Her resilience in captivity, marked by her creation of an imaginary friend, speaks volumes of her strength.
Her character’s journey from a survivor to a young woman tentatively finding her footing in a new reality is both inspiring and poignant.
The Hanaka Family
The Hanakas represent the deceptive nature of suburban perfection. Underneath their ideal family image lie jealousy, secrets, and suspicion.
The unraveling of their family dynamics, particularly through Cassandra’s actions, reflects the novel’s theme of the illusory nature of suburban bliss.
The Tebow Family
The Tebows serve as a foil to the Hanakas, showcasing how appearances can be misleading. Their troubled marriage, marked by mutual suspicions of infidelity, contrasts with the seemingly perfect but equally troubled Hanaka family.
The Tebows’ story, particularly Jason’s wrongful conviction, underscores the novel’s critique of societal judgment based on superficial perceptions.
1. The Illusion of Suburban Tranquility
This Mary Kubica story delves deeply into the facade of suburban life, where the veneer of peace and order often masks a turbulent undercurrent.
Set against the backdrop of a seemingly serene Chicago suburb, the novel exposes how this idyllic setting is rife with secrets, lies, and hidden turmoil. Kubica skillfully portrays the suburban setting not just as a physical location, but as a complex social landscape where appearances can be deceiving.
The story illustrates how the pursuit of a perfect life in the suburbs can lead to extreme measures, as characters like Bea and Cassandra grapple with their own insecurities and misperceptions.
This theme is a reminder of the disparity between the outward appearance of suburban life and the often chaotic reality that lies beneath.
2. The Complexity of Human Relationships and Deception
At its core, the book is a study of relationships—marital, neighborly, and parental—and how they can become entangled in a web of deceit.
The novel meticulously explores the dynamics between characters like Meredith and her neighbor Bea, whose initial friendship devolves into a nightmare due to misconceptions and hidden motives.
Similarly, the strained relationship between Cassandra and her husband Marty, steeped in jealousy and suspicion, adds another layer to the narrative. Kubica uses these relationships to show how trust can be easily eroded and how deception can become a tool for survival.
The complexities of these interactions not only drive the plot but also offer a deeper understanding of human psychology and the lengths to which people will go to protect themselves and their loved ones.
3. Trauma and Its Lasting Effects
A significant theme in the book is the exploration of trauma and its enduring impact on individuals and communities.
The novel portrays various forms of trauma, from the physical and emotional turmoil experienced by the characters involved in the accidents and crimes to the psychological scars borne by those like Delilah, who endures years of captivity.
Kubica doesn’t just focus on the immediate aftermath of these traumatic events but also on their long-term effects, such as the way they shape relationships, alter perceptions of reality, and influence behavior long after the events have passed.
This theme is particularly poignant in the depiction of Carly’s and Delilah’s lives post-trauma, highlighting the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity, while also acknowledging the deep and sometimes invisible wounds that such experiences can inflict.
“Local Woman Missing” is a compelling thriller that masterfully intertwines themes of suburban unrest, the fragility of trust, and the pervasive impact of trauma.
Kubica’s skillful use of a non-linear narrative along with the plot’s twists and the ethical dilemmas faced by the characters, makes us think about the choices people make under dire circumstances.
While the resolution offers some closure, the novel’s acknowledgment of the enduring scars left by such traumatic events invites reflection on the complexities of healing and the resilience of the human spirit.