After Her (Maynard)

After Her 
Joyce Maynard, 2013
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062257390

I was always looking for excitement, until I found some . . .

Summer, 1979. A dry, hot Northern California school vacation stretches before Rachel and her younger sister, Patty—the daughters of a larger-than-life, irresistibly handsome (and chronically unfaithful) detective father and the mother whose heart he broke.

When we first meet her, Patty is eleven—a gangly kid who loves basketball and dogs and would do anything for her older sister, Rachel. Rachel is obsessed with making up stories and believes she possesses the gift of knowing what's in the minds of people around her. She has visions, whether she wants to or not. Left to their own devices, the sisters spend their days studying record jackets, concocting elaborate fantasies about the mysterious neighbor who moved in down the street, and playing dangerous games on the mountain that looms behind their house.

When young women start turning up dead on the mountain, the girls' father is put in charge of finding the murderer known as the "Sunset Strangler." Watching her father's life slowly unravel as months pass and more women are killed, Rachel embarks on her most dangerous game yet . . . using herself as bait to catch the killer. But rather than cracking the case, the consequences of Rachel's actions will destroy her father's career and alter forever the lives of everyone she loves.

Thirty years later, still haunted by the belief that the killer remains at large, Rachel constructs a new strategy to smoke out the Sunset Strangler and vindicate her father—a plan that unexpectedly unearths a long-buried family secret.

Loosely inspired by the Trailside Killer case that terrorized Marin County, California, in the late 1970s, After Her is part thriller, part love story. Maynard has created a poignant, suspenseful, and painfully real family saga that traces a young girl's first explorations of sexuality, the loss of innocence, the bond shared by sisters, and the tender but damaged relationship between a girl and her father that endures even beyond the grave. (From the publisher.)

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in the film adaptation to be released in January, 2014.

Author Bio
Birth—November 5, 1953
Raised—Durham, New Hampshire, USA
Education—Yale University (no degree)
Currently—lives in Mill Valley, California

Daphne Joyce Maynard is an American author known for writing with candor about her life, as well as for her works of fiction and hundreds of essays and newspaper columns, often about parenting and family. The 1998 publication of her memoir, At Home in the World, made her the object of intense criticism among some members of the literary world for having revealed the story of the relationship she had with author J. D. Salinger when he was 53 and she was 18.

Early life
Maynard grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, daughter of the Canadian painter Max Maynard and writer Fredelle Maynard. Her mother was Jewish (daughter of Russian-born immigrants) and her father was Christian. She attended the Oyster River School District and Phillips Exeter Academy. She won early recognition for her writing from The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, winning student writing prizes in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1971.

While in her teens, she wrote regularly for Seventeen magazine. She entered Yale University in 1971 and sent a collection of her writings to the editors of the New York Times Magazine. They asked her to write an article for them, which was published as "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life" in the magazine's April 23, 1972 issue.

J.D. Salinger
The Times Magazine  article prompted a letter from J. D. Salinger, then 53 years old, who complimented her writing and warned her of the dangers of publicity.They exchanged 25 letters, and Maynard dropped out of Yale the summer after her freshman year to live with Salinger in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Maynard spent ten months living in Salinger's Cornish home, during which time she completed work on her first book, Looking Back, a memoir that was published in 1973, in which she adhered to Salinger's request that she not mention his role in her life. Her relationship with Salinger ended abruptly just prior to the book's publication. According to Maynard's memoir, he cut off the relationship suddenly while on a family vacation with her and with his two children; she was devastated and begged him to take her back.

For many years, Maynard chose not to discuss her affair with Salinger in any of her writings, but she broke her silence in At Home In the World, a 1999 memoir. The same year, Maynard put up for auction the letters Salinger had written to her. In the ensuing controversy over her decision, Maynard claimed that she was forced to auction the letters for financial reasons, including the need to pay her children's college fees; she would have preferred to donate them to Beinecke Library. Software developer Peter Norton bought the letters for $156,500 and announced his intention to return them to Salinger.

In September, 2013, Maynard wrote a New York Times opinion piece following the release of a documentary film on Salinger. She criticizes the film's hands-off attitude toward Salinger's numerous relationships with teenage girls.

Now comes the word...[that] Salinger was also carrying on relationships with young women 15, and in my case, 35 years younger than he. "Salinger" touches—though politely—on the story of just five of these young women (most under 20 when he sought them out), but the pattern was wider: letters I’ve received...revealed to me that there were more than a dozen.

Maynard never returned to college. In 1973, she used the proceeds from her first book to purchase a house on a large piece of land in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, where she lived alone for over two years. From 1973 until 1975, she contributed commentaries to a series called “Spectrum,” broadcast on CBS radio and television, frequently debating the conservative voices of Phyllis Schlafly and James J. Kilpatrick.

In 1975, Maynard joined the staff of the New York Times, where she worked as a general assignment reporter also contributing feature stories. She left the Times in 1977 when she married Steve Bethel and returned to New Hampshire, where the couple had three children.

From 1984 to 1990, Maynard wrote the weekly syndicated column “Domestic Affairs,” in which she wrote candidly about marriage, parenthood and family life. She also served as a book reviewer and a columnist for Mademoiselle and Harrowsmith magazines. She published her first novel, Baby Love, and two children’s books illustrated by her son Bethel. In 1986 she co-led the opposition to the construction of the nation’s first high-level nuclear waste dump in her home state of New Hampshire, a campaign she described in a New York Times cover story in April ,1986.

When Maynard’s own marriage ended in 1989—an event she explored in print—many newspapers dropped the “Domestic Affairs” column, though it was reinstated in a number of markets in response to reader protest. After her divorce, Maynard and her children moved to the city of Keene, New Hampshire.

Mature works
Maynard gained widespread commercial acceptance in 1992 with the publication of her novel To Die For which drew several elements from the real-life Pamela Smart murder case. It was adapted into a 1995 film of the same name starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck and directed by Gus Van Sant. In the late 1990s, Maynard became one of the first authors to communicate daily with her readership by making use of the Internet and an online discussion forum, The Domestic Affairs Message Board (DAMB).

Maynard has subsequently published in several genres. Both The Usual Rules (2003) and The Cloud Chamber (2005) are young adult titles. Internal Combustion (2006), was her first in the true crime genre. Although nonfiction, it had thematic similarities to the fictionalized crime in To Die For, dealing with the case of Michigan resident Nancy Seaman, convicted of killing her husband in 2004. Labor Day, an adult literary novel, was published in 2009 and is presently being adapted for a film to be directed by Jason Reitman. Maynard's most recent novels are The Good Daughters, published in 2010, and After Her, in 2013.

Maynard and her sister Rona (also a writer and the retired editor of Chatelaine) collaborated in 2007 on an examination of their sisterhood. Rona Maynard's memoir My Mother's Daughter was published in the fall of 2007.
Recent years

Maynard has lived in Mill Valley, California, since 1996. She was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine and now runs writing workshops at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

In February 2010, Maynard adopted two Ethiopian girls, Almaz (10) and Birtukan, but in the spring of 2011, she announced to friends and family that she no longer felt she could care for the girls. She sent the girls to live with a family in Wyoming and, citing their privacy, removed all references to them from her website. On July 6, 2013, she married a lawyer, Jim Barringer. (Adapted fom Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/15/13.)

Book Reviews
Veteran novelist Joyce Maynard has returned with a coming of age story woven into a serial killer investigation that is both evocative and captivating.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

[F]ar from a simple whodunit... [Maynard] deftly conveys that we are never truly safe, but that we can’t let fear stand in the way of our becoming who we want to be.
Real Simple

Maynard writes great characters and craft a story that will not let you go.

[T]he story of a broken family rocked by a real-life Bay Area serial killer. Rachel Torricelli and her younger sister, Patty, idolized their father, a homicide detective.... [I]n the summer of 1979, when murders begin occurring....[t]he girls’ father is on the case...putting [Rachel] and her sister in harm’s way. Maynard captures the way that memory works in fragments....a testament to Maynard’s narrative dexterity. This cinematic coming-of-age murder mystery satisfyingly blends suspense with nostalgia.
Publishers Weekly

This title is loosely based on the Trailside Killer case that terrified Marin in the 1970s. Here the case is seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old, giving Maynard's thriller an interesting twist on what would otherwise be a simple reworking of a cold case of serial murder. Rachel is so focused on saving her father and her parents' failed marriage that everything else in the world around her is merely a blur. —Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA
Library Journal

The plot of Maynard’s eighth novel, although based on the story of the real-life Trailside Killer, strains credulity at times; it is less a thriller than an affecting portrait of the relationship between a father and his daughters. —Joanne Wilkinson

Cycling through big themes—love for a flawed father and a loyal sister; the pursuit of a serial killer; coming-of-age/receiving of family wisdom—Maynard's latest starts strong but a speedy, decades-later wrap-up that offers more tidiness than conviction. There's fluency and insight here but also a shortage of subtlety, with the book's underpinnings too visible through its skin.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The book begins with Rachel and Patty pretending to be dead. What significance does this have for the rest of the story? What are some of the other instances of foreshadowing in the Prologue? Discuss the significance of the title "After Her."

2. One of the central elements of the novel is the bond between sisters Rachel and Patty. How have they come to rely so thoroughly upon each other? What significance lies in the fact that Patty must speak through Rachel? How does the relationship change as they get older?

3. Rachel loves making up stories and has an active imagination. On page 3 of the Prologue, she tells us,

This is how I remember it. I could  be wrong. I had a big imagination when I was young. I was good at making up stories, and my stories were so good I even believed them myself sometimes.

Were there stories Rachel made up that she believed wholeheartedly even though they weren't true? Identify some of the ways that Rachel's imagination gets her into trouble and some of the ways in which it benefits her.

4. Rachel's parents divorce when she and Patty are young. Describe how that divorce affects their childhood and how it influences their respective relationships with their father and mother.

5. On page 95, Rachel and Patty are discussing Mr. Armitage and their "investigation" of him. Rachel says, "Some people have a secret dark side. They wouldn't call it a dark side if there wasn't a bright side too." Do you think this is an accurate observation of people in general? Was Rachel ultimately right about Mr. Armitage and his dark side?

6. Because her father is the head detective on the Sunset Strangler case, Rachel finds herself on the fast track to popularity. How does she handle this change in social status? How does it affect her relationship with Patty? Why do you think Rachel continues these relationships even though she concedes that Alison is likely just using her for information about the Sunset Strangler case and that Teddy is probably not a nice person?

7. Rachel's mother is depressed and spends very little time parenting her girls, often leaving them to their own devices. Discuss how this freedom influences their characters as they grow for better or worse.

8. Mount Tamalpais plays an important role in the story as Rachel's and Patty's playground and the site of several of the Sunset Strangler's murders. Discuss some of the symbolic and figurative roles that the mountain played.

9. "My Sharona" becomes the soundtrack of the summer of 1979, the Sunset Strangler case, and the novel as a whole. How does the author utilize the song and its lyrics, and what meaning do they take on for Rachel?

10. After receiving her father's notes on the Sunset Strangler, Rachel takes up the cause of catching the real Sunset Strangler. Why do you think she does this? Was it a good idea? Would you have done the same thing? Why or why not?

11. Patty's sudden death in Somalia comes as a tragic shock to both Rachel and the reader. How does Rachel cope with the loss of her best friend and sister? Is it similar to the manner in which she grieved for her father?

12. Rachel and Patty adored their father, Detective Anthony Torricelli. In what ways do you think Rachel's opinions of and experiences with her father affected her adult relationships with men?

13. What is Rachel's reaction when she discovers the existence of her half-sister, Gina? In your opinion, what spurs her resistance to Gina's friendly advances, and what changes after her final confrontation with the Sunset Strangler?

14. In the end, Rachel believes that children outgrow their imaginations. Do you think this is true? Do you believe we lose our ability to feel things as deeply as we do when we are young teenagers? Support your opinion using examples from the novel.
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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