Emily Arsenault's latest thriller, The Last Thing I Told You, is available today, and true to form she brings us an intense, compelling, unreliable narrator and twisting plot that makes us think and keeps us guessing until the resolution. In it, a small Connecticut town is devastated by a mass shooting at a luxury retirement home -- the center of the town's economy. Years later, the "hero cop" who saved lives that day still struggles with the events and is forced to come face-to-face with his demons while investigating the murder of a local psychologist where two of his former teenage patients are suspects.
There are plenty of topics up for discussion with The Last Thing I Told You, including one of the main characters, Nadine, a teenage girl with a deeply unusual relationship with the people around her. Read a guest post from the author on the development of this complex character.
Unhappy teenage girls tend to show up in my books quite often. Some are central characters, some are side characters moping around in the background, trying to get a word in edgewise. Obviously there’s some unresolved issue at play here; some adolescent demon I keep failing to exorcise. I’ve all but accepted this as a fact of my writing if not my life in general.
When I started to write The Last Thing I Told You, though, I made a conscious decision to write a different kind of teenage girl this time. I didn’t want to pull any punches with my narrator Nadine. I wanted to create a young female character who has a shocking way of expressing her anger and resentment. I wanted her anger to be deep, her behavior alarming, her psychology complex and confused. I didn’t necessarily want her to be very sympathetic, or the network of emotions that led to the violence to be easily traceable.
I wanted to write about a dark and disturbing female narrator. But I didn’t want the story to end with her unsettling behavior. I wanted it to start there. I wanted for readers to have a chance to watch her attempt to understand and redeem herself. The point isn’t Hey, look at this screwed up girl and the twisted thing she does. What’s more interesting to me is what happens after the moment of violence.
How does one move forward from something like that? How does one come to understand it? For years afterwards, Nadine struggles to be someone else besides “The girl with the X-Acto knife,” as she thinks is remembered in her town. But when she tries to be someone else, how convincing is she to the people around her? To readers? To herself?
While Nadine’s behavior is extreme, I was trying to capture the more common experience of trying to assimilate a darker former self into our current lives. How do we finally keep that shadow figure from showing up and asking, again, to be understood?