The Missing Hours is Julia Dahl’s first stand-alone crime novel and with it she proves herself an astute chronicler of human nature – especially when in the midst of stress-fueled incidents and trauma recovery. Dahl wastes no time before throwing readers into a troubling situation and follows it up with a propulsive through line that practically demands a one-sit reading experience.
Claudia Castro lives the privileged life her wealthy upbringing afforded her. She has parlayed this notoriety into trendy Instagram fame, acceptance into the new freshman class at NYU, and the general perks of popularity. But she has also felt the sting of having her every move documented for the masses. So, it makes perfect sense when Claudia wakes from a drunken stupor, with only the vaguest of memories from the previous evening, that she freaks out and isolates herself.
During this self-imposed exile, Claudia’s sister goes into early labor and when Claudia is a no-show at the hospital, the family chalks it up to Claudia’s youthful, selfish behavior. Unaware of the family drama occurring over a number of weeks, Claudia connects with another resident in her dorm building, Trevor, and begins to rely on him to bring her food and information about the outside world.
That is until a scandalous video shot during Claudia’s “blackout” surfaces, and everyone is shocked and confused by what they are seeing. After attempting to reach Claudia, her family’s worries escalate, reaching a fever pitch when they discover that the young woman seems to have vanished.
The novel’s title alone serves multiple purposes – it is clearly meant to call to mind the actions of the traumatic evening, which Claudia cannot completely recollect, but it is also an apt description of that time-period when the Castro family and friends are unable to locate Claudia.
Julia Dahl cleverly uses three points-of-view to unspool her narrative. Readers are privy to Claudia’s thoughts and concerns about what happened that evening, they are given a glimpse into her family life via her sister, Edie, and then they witness the shifting notions that plague Trevor as he tries to make an honest connection with Claudia. As these points-of-view reflect off each other and weave into a whole cloth account of what occurred, readers remain one step ahead of all the characters. Thus, as things shift from confusion and concern to blame and revenge, Julia Dahl needs no help in convincing readers of the correct course of action.
This is a writer unwilling to pull any punches when it comes to documenting Claudia’s journey towards understanding and recovery. Julia Dahl skillfully makes the reader complicit in all the various forms of trauma faced by women and their bodies, thereby eliciting the empathy that is needed for this storyline to succeed. Because the reading experience is so speedy, many readers will not realize just how affected they are by the multiple plot threads until they finish the novel and are able to reflect on these characters and what they have gone through.
Unforgettable is a word that is too often used when describing the plots of books and films, but with The Missing Hours, Julia Dahl has indeed crafted a work that will linger in readers minds for years to come. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a string of powerful stand-alone novels from this talented author.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.